Even as the violent conflict that erupted on May 3 with Kuki-Zomis attacking Meiteis in the bordering areas of Manipur’s Churachandpur district and Bishnupur district is almost seven months now, the Indian Army’s Eastern Command General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Lt Gen Rana Pratap Kalita said the violence in Manipur will stop after 4,000 firearms looted from security forces in the State are recovered.
According to reports, speaking to journalists on November 21 at a programme organised by the Gauhati Press Club, Lt Gen Rana Pratap Kalita said the conflict in Manipur is a “political problem” and the armed forces have been focused on containing the violence and motivating the warring communities to take the route of peaceful resolution.
“Our efforts have been to contain the violence and motivate both sides of the conflict to come for a peaceful resolution of the political problem. Because ultimately, there has to be a political resolution to the problem,” the GOC Eastern Command told the journalists at the interaction programme.
He also said that the Indian Army’s aim initially was to carry out rescue and relief operations for the people who were displaced from their houses.
“Thereafter, we have been trying to contain the violence and motivate people to accept a peaceful resolution. But because of the polarisation between the two communities – Meiteis and Kukis – sporadic incidents are continuing,” Lt Gen Kalita said, insisting that Manipur’s problem can be resolved politically.
Reasoning why normalcy has not returned to Manipur even after more than six-and-half months of beginning of the clashes, Kalita also said some legacy issues among the three communities – Meiteis, Kukis, and Nagas – have been a factor behind several conflicts in Manipur over four decades.
The Lieutenant General pointed out that earlier also there had been conflicts between the Kukis and Nagas in the 1990s when almost 1,000 people were killed.
“What has happened now is that the two communities have become completely polarised. Although the level of violence has come down, more than 5,000 weapons taken from various police stations and other places are still in people’s hands,” he said.
“Out of that, only about 1,500 weapons have been recovered. So, around 4,000 weapons are still out. Till the time these weapons are out in society, this sort of sporadic violent activities will continue,” he added.
On the refugee crisis from Myanmar, reports quoted Lt Gen Kalita as saying, “Any instability in our neighbourhood is not in our interest. It definitely impacts us as we share the common border. The problem of the Indo-Myanmar border gets accentuated because of the difficult geography and terrain conditions, and lack of development.”
He further said as the border is porous and people are from the same ethnicity on both sides of the border, a lot of free movements take place, and it becomes difficult for the forces managing the borders to identify who are the people from India and who are from Myanmar.
“We are giving shelter to anybody who is seeking refuge, whether it is a common villager or Myanmar Army or Myanmar Police. There is a due process that is followed. Whenever they want to come in, the weapons are separated obviously.
“Thereafter there is a proper identification, which is carried out so that the undesirable elements are segregated. We get in touch with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and (Myanmar) Embassy. Generally, all these Myanmar Army personnel will be taken to Moreh (in Manipur) and then handed over to the (Myanmar) force,” Kalita said.
He further explained the direction is very clear to the forces on the border that the common villagers seeking refuge to escape the conflict in Myanmar are not stopped and whenever they are ready, they are sent back.
“While doing that, the directions are very clear that no armed cadres s be allowed to come. Any armed cadres trying to come are addressed in an appropriate manner. There is a definite check on people with drugs and arms, and anybody caught is handed over to the police following the due procedure,” Kalita said.
Currently, the Assam Rifles is managing the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur and Mizoram and they have border outposts in both the states along the international border, he added.
In the last few weeks, dozens of Myanmar soldiers stationed near the international border with India fled to Mizoram following intense gunfights with militia group People’s Defence Force (PDF). They were later escorted back to their country through Moreh in Manipur.
The Eastern Command General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Lt Gen Kalita also said India is giving shelter on humanitarian grounds to anyone from Myanmar seeking refuge, including villagers, officials, and security personnel from Myanmar in Mizoram and Manipur but not to armed cadres of extremist groups or drug traffickers.
There are allegations that drug traffickers and poppy growers in Manipur are behind the ongoing violence against the Meiteis.
However, Lt Gen Kalita said the smuggling of weapons along with drugs through the Indo-Myanmar border has been checked, although some isolated incidents may be there, reports added.
“But since 4,000 weapons are already out in the open, I think there is no requirement of weapons to come from outside,” he stressed.
However, sporadic incidents are continuing intermittently in the peripherial areas of Imphal Valley in particular most recently Sanasabi village in Imphal East; Kadangband, Koutruk and Haraothel villages in Imphal West and other villages in Bishnupur district bordering Churachandpur district with firing by the Kuki militants from the surrounding mountains while the looted 4,000 weapons are considered at large in valley areas.
It may be mentioned that India Today on June 27 reported that Arms which were used to spread unrest and violence in Manipur were smuggled via Myanmar and a significant consignment of weapons was received in Manipur via the Myanmar route in the month of June 2023. Sources also revealed that a large cache of weapons was procured by active insurgent groups in Manipur in three vehicles. These weapons were reportedly brought from the black market, situated near the Myanmar-China border, before being transported to Manipur, the report added.
Moreover, the continuing firings are carried out as attacks by the Kuki-Zomi militants against the Meiteis from the surrounding mountains according to news reports.
Notably, what is missing in the explanation of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Lt Gen Rana Pratap Kalita why normalcy has not returned to Manipur even after the violent conflict has passed more than six-and-half months and sporadic firing incidents still continue is about the sophisticated firearms of the Kuki-Zomis who continue to attack the Meitei villages in the valley.
Here, it is pertinent to ask – How has the Indian Army’s Eastern Command General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Lt Gen Rana Pratap Kalita concluded that the violence in Manipur will stop after 4,000 firearms looted from security forces in the State are recovered? If the 4,000 weapons are recovered, will not the Kuki-Zomi militants attack the Meiteis? Is it not necessary to contain the firearms of both sides of the conflict to bring a political solution? Why the Indian Army’s Eastern Command GOC is silent about the sophisticated firearms of the Kuki-Zomis?
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics