Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Classic Group of Hotels
Meira Paibis demanding abrogation of SoO Agreement with Kuki-Zomi militants on February 28

Why Do People Want Suspension of Operations, SoO, Agreement with Kuki-Zomi Militants Abrogated?

Even as the deadline for extension of the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with 25 Kuki-Zomi militant groups expired, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) of Government of India (GOI) is yet to announce on continuing the SoO agreement.

According to reports, the Central Government is yet to decide on continuing the SoO agreement with Kuki-Zomi militants amidst demands from political parties and civil society organisations in Manipur not to extend the SoO pact further.

The SoO agreement which had been operational between the Assam Rifiles and the Kuki-Zomi militants since 2005 was formalised on August 22, 2008 as a tripartite agreement between the Government of India (GOI) and Government of Manipur (GOM) on one part, and Kuki-Zomi militants represented by Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and United People’s Front (UPF) on the other part.

KNO is a conglomeration 17 Kuki-Zomi militant groups while United People’s Front (UPF) has eight militant groups belonging to Kuki-Zomi tribes.

Since the eruption of violent conflict in Manipur’s Churachandpur district and its bordering areas of Bishnupur district where the Kuki-Zomi militants attacked the Meiteis and burned down their houses on May 3 last year, a number of civil society organisations in Manipur have been demanding aboragation of SoO agreement with the Kuki-Zomi militants.

As the SoO agreement was expiring soon thousands of women demonstrated in different parts of Imphal Valley on February 28 demanding abrogation of the SoO agreement between the GOI, GOM and 25 Kuki-Zomi militant groups represented by KNO and UPF.

The Sit-in-Protests and demonstations during day time on Wednesday, February 28 and Torch Rallies in the night of the same day were organised in different parts of Manipur following a call from the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), a conglomeration of five valley-based civil society organisations to put pressure on the Government.

Demonstrators mostly women in different places raised slogans seeking immediate abrogation of the SoO agreement and for the State Assembly to adopt a resolution on revoking the SoO agreement.

As the pressure from the civil society organisations and political parties demanding abrogation of SoO agreement mounts on Manipur Government and the members of the Manipur Legislative Assembly, on February 29, the 5th Session of the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution urging the Central Government to completely abrogate the SoO pact with all the Kuki-Zomi militant groups.

Notably, the SoO agreement has been extended periodically and expired on February 28, 2024.

Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren on February 29 posted on X: “The 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly on the 2nd day of its 5th Session unanimously resolved to urge the Central Government to completely abrogate the SoO pact with all the Kuki-Zo militant groups.” He also said this decision comes in the interest of ensuring peace and security in the region.

However, the 10 MLAs of Manipur belonging to Kuki-Zomi-Hmar tribes, including two ministers Nemcha Kipgen and Letpao Haokip, have not been attending the Assembly Session ever since eruption of the violent conflict on May 3, 2023.

Earlier, the Government of Manipur, which has been part of the tripartite SoO agreement, had on March 10, 2023 announced unilateral withdrawal from the pact with two Kuki-Zomi militant groups out of the 25 militant groups under SoO.

The Manipur Cabinet on March 10, 2023 had decided to withdraw the State Government from SoO agreement with the Kuki National Army (KNA) and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) whose leaders hail from outside Manipur. The Cabinet took the decision after reviewing the law and order situation in view of the rallies held on March 10, 2023 at Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal districts when the ralies turned out to be violent particulalrly at Kangpokpi.

The Manipur Cabinet noted that the rallies were organised for a cause which is unconstitutional and the rallies therefore were illegal. The Cabinet further reaffirmed that the State Government will not compromise on steps taken to protect the State’s forest resources and for eradicating poppy cultivation.

Meanwhile, the 10 MLAs who has not been attending the sessions of Manipur Assembly since May 3 last years, in a joint statement, said the resolution adopted by the Assembly emanated from “prejudice, bias and hatred for our community” reflecting a myopic view on the issue.

As part of the ground rules, there is a strong mechanism in place called Joint Monitoring Group (JMG), comprising central and state government agencies and KNO and UPF representatives meant to oversee adherence to the ground rules, the 10 Kuki-Zomi-Hmar MLAs said.

“We would like to question whether the resolution adopted by the august House was based on any report or observations of the JMG, which is the only official mechanism to determine whether any violation of the ground rules has taken place or not. This is not the case as the resolution is based on an overwhelming sense of animosity and hatred for a particular community,” the statement of the 10 MLAs said.

It further stated that the tripartite agreement was lauded as the harbinger of peace and security in the state when it was signed and Manipur, particularly the hill districts, witnessed a sea change in the security scenario as the level of violence came down drastically in the years that followed.

The 10 MLAs belonging to Kuki-Zomi-Hmar tribes said successive governments took their share of credit over improvement in the law and order situation in the State owing to the signing of the agreement.

The 10 Kuki-Zomi-Hmar MLAs said the resolution was adopted to defame the KNO and the UPF and further alienate the Kuki-Zomi-Hmar community “as part of the continuing hate campaign”.

They appealed to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to consider all aspects of the issue in a fair and just manner to check further discrimination and alienation of the Kuki-Zomi-Hmar people.

Nevertheless, the COCOMI on February 26 has written a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “urgent need for caution and re-evaluation” of any decision regarding the extension of the SoO agreement with Kuki-Zomi militant groups.

In its letter, the COCOMI urged the Government of India to refrain from hastily extending the SoO agreement with the Kuki-Zomi armed groups without thorough scrutiny and reassessment and take immediate and decisive action to address SoO “ground rule violations and illegal activities perpetrated by these groups”.

The COCOMI said that they are compelled to express their concerns. Despite numerous extensions since 2008 under the guise of political dialogue, the progress in the peace process remains elusive. Furthermore, there have been repeated and flagrant violations of the agreement’s ground rules, exacerbating the already volatile situation in Manipur.

Recent escalations of violence in Manipur have provided stark evidence of the direct involvement of Kuki militant groups in targeted attacks against Indian Army and state police personnel. This reality underscores the urgent need for caution and reevaluation of any decisions regarding the extension of the SoO agreement.

The COCOMI letter to the Prime Minister mentioned some incidents where the Kuki-Zomi militants violate the ground rules of the SoO agreement.

On May 3rd, SoO Cadre members were captured on camera and video participating in the rally in Churachandpur, while also launching attacks on Meitei Villages in Torbung.

ZRA Cadres openly engaged in the vioent conflict by hoisting ZRA flags in the foothills and atop Thangjing Hill in June 2023, as documented by multiple individuals and media outlets, the letter said.

Concerns were raised by the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding the acquisition of Indian citizenship through backdoor means by Mr. Thanglianpau Guite, the Chairman of Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), exposing his foreign nationality. The government’s decision to engage in political dialogue despite this raises suspicions about their intentions, the letter mentioned.

KRA’s direct involvement in gun attacks in Saikul and Dolaithabi, resulting in the death of Assam Rifle Jawan Shri Alok Rao on May 16, 2023, constitutes a clear violation of the SoO agreement.

Security Advisor Kuldiep Singh’s statement on May 14, 2023, regarding missing SoO cadres from designated camps, highlights further violations of ground rules. The discovery of only a fraction of the expected number of cadres during surprise visits demonstrates the deceitful behaviour of the SoO groups, undermining the efforts and resources invested by the Government of India.

A dead body recovered during a violent confrontation at Serou-Sugnu junction on June 2, 2023, suspected to be of Myanmar origin, was found wearing traditional Lunges attire, as observed in drone footage, the letter said.

The significant increase in poppy cultivation areas within SoO-operated territories in Manipur’s hill regions, monitored by both Assam Rifles and Indian Military intelligence, indicates the involvement of SoO groups in the narcotics trade, the COCOMI in the letter said.

The concealment of deceased individuals associated with Kuki groups during recent encounters, contrasted with the transparent reporting of casualties from the Meitei side, suggests the covert engagement of SoO cadres in the ongoing conflict, the COCOMI added.

The COCOMI urges the Government of India to exercise extreme caution and refrain from hastily extending the SoO agreement with Chin-Kuki narco-terrorist groups without thorough scrutiny and reassessment; take immediate and decisive action to address SoO ground rule violations and illegal activities perpetrated by these groups.

The COCOMI also urges the GOI to prioritize the safety and security of the indigenous people of Manipur above all other considerations in any decision-making process.

Moreover, the Meitei Alliance, representing various allied Meitei diaspora organisations of the global consortia platform, on Februay 21 submitted a memorandum to the Union Home Minister on “Why Suspension of Operation Agreements with Kuki National Organisation and United Peoples’ Front in Manipur Should Be Abrogated to Prevent Destabilisation of India?”

Despite widespread awareness of violations of laws by Kuki armed cadres, particularly on national highways and at developmental project sites, there has been limited attention given to questioning whether these actions constitute breaches of the SoO agreements. Many individuals have not been fully informed about the contents and implications of the SoO. However, the SoO agreements came under scrutiny in 2023, particularly following the regrettable events of May 3, 2023. During this incident, Kuki armed cadres, purportedly under the protection of the SoO, not only displayed sophisticated arms during a “peace march” but also engaged in armed attacks against civilians.

The Meitei Allainace said that the Kuki-Zomi militants have been “exploiting the pact” to “act against India’s national security”.

Also Read