Fratricidal killings put strain on Naga truce

June 6th, 2008 - 2:00 pm ICT by IANS  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Kohima, June 6 (IANS) It is almost a ‘jungle raj’ around Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland. Gang wars among Naga rebels have killed close to 30 people in less than three weeks, making a mockery of the ceasefire with two of the main insurgent groups. Open street battles between the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) and the rival faction headed by S. S. Khaplang (NSCN-K) left 14 militants dead Wednesday.

The latest bloodshed was reported from Kelhoze village, near Dimapur.

Earlier, on May 16, in a similar gun battle in the vicinity, 14 NSCN-K militants lost their lives. On both occasions, the rebels had used assault rifles, light machine guns and fired mortars.

“The NSCN-IM is openly backed by the state machinery, including the security forces, and hence we have suffered some casualties in the last two attacks,” Kughalo Mulatonu, a senior NSCN-IM leader, told IANS.

“We may have lost the last two battles, but the war has just begun,” he added.

The central government has responded by replacing the Kohima-based chairman of the ceasefire monitoring committee, Lt Gen (retd) R.V. Kulkarni, with M.L. Kumawat, special secretary (internal security).

The Nagaland authorities have naturally come criticism from the locals.

The central government has meanwhile decided to launch a joint operation of the police, the paramilitary and the army to flush out the rebels from Dimapur and its vicinity.

“We had to arrive at this decision to remove the rebels from in and around Dimapur in view of the frequent clashes and their refusal to pay heed to our orders to vacate civilian areas,” Dimapur deputy commissioner M. Aier said. Most significantly, the authorities have decided to retaliate if the militants resist attempts to flush them out.

While the truce between the NSCN-IM and New Delhi has been in force since 1997, the truce with the NSCN-K has been in place since 2001. However, there has never been any officially recognised ceasefire between the rebel factions themselves, resulting in the militants openly killing each other despite their truce with the authorities.

“It is evident from the two incidents that the NSCN-IM started the attack and killed our cadres. So it is the NSCN-IM that violated the ceasefire, with the security forces and the government being mute spectators,” said Mulatonu.

The NSCN-IM instead accused the rival group of triggering the clashes.

“We are just defending ourselves,” a NSCN-IM leader said, requesting not to be named. Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said the frequent clashes were not good for the peace process.

“The two factions must resist from attacking each other. We are taking all possible measures to control the situation,” the chief minister said.

But what is surprising is the fact that even after two deadly attacks, the authorities were unable to arrest even a single militant, thereby putting a big question mark over the seriousness of the government in dealing with the situation.

“The militants have been able to make a mockery of the ceasefire because of the loopholes in the ceasefire ground rules. Since the government has a truce with both the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K, the authorities should have worked out a truce between the rebel factions. Changing the person heading the truce monitoring committee will not help,” said Wasbir Hussain, director of the Guwahati-based Centre for Development and Peace Studies.

The situation in the Naga insurgency theatre has turned more murky after the emergence of the NSCN (Unification) in November after some leaders and cadres of the NSCN-IM walked away.

The May 16 gun battle near Dimapur was between the NSCN-IM and NSCN (Unification) in which 14 rebels belonging to the NSCN (Unification) were killed.

“It is no longer a battle for territorial supremacy among the Naga rebel factions. It is lawlessness at its best with the authorities appearing to be clueless in dealing with the situation,” Hussain said.

The only ray of hope amid the dark clouds in Nagaland is the anger and protests by Naga civilians against this mindless violence.

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