The largest insurgent group in the northeast has asked the Meiteis and Kukis in Manipur to ensure the hostilities between them do not affect the Nagas living in the violence-hit state.
The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN(IM), in a statement on Thursday said some “Kuki militants” attacked a village where members of the Kom community – a Naga minor tribe – live in Manipur’s Kangathei.
“Our Meitei brothers and Kukis should not… harass them in any manner. It is a matter of regret that one Kom village Kangathei has come under attack by Kuki militants and forced the villagers to vacate the place,” the NSCN(IM) said in a statement.
The NSCN (IM) has a ceasefire agreement with the centre and it has to report the location of all its camps to the Indian Army.
World women’s boxing champion Mary Kom also belongs to the Kom tribe.
The NSCN(IM) statement is significant as the Nagas have not been involved in the ethnic clashes between the Meiteis, who live in and around the state capital Imphal valley, and the Kuki tribe, who are settled in the hills, over the valley residents’ demand for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category. Over 70 people have died in the violence that started on May 3.
Referring to the Kom village incident, the NSCN(IM) said, “Such vicious violence will only aggravate the situation and this must be put to stop forthwith for the sake of humanity and peaceful coexistence.”
The Kukis had fought with the Nagas in the early 90s after the Nagas accused them of encroaching on their land. Many from both tribes were killed in that conflict.
Manipur has been without internet for over 20 days. Home Minister Amit Shah will visit the state on May 29 to defuse tensions. He has asked all communities to bring peace and start a dialogue.
But sporadic gunfights have been reported almost every day in Manipur and the situation is still tense, despite the army and other security forces being deployed in large numbers.
Thousands of people from both the communities have been internally displaced. Civil society organisations, the army and the government have been helping out with food and basic necessities at relief camps in the valley and the hills.
The Kukis have alleged the BJP government in Manipur led by Chief Minister N Biren Singh has been targeting them systematically – using the war on drugs campaign as the cover – to remove them from the forests and their homes in the hills. The scale of poppy cultivation in Manipur, however, has spread across 15,400 acres of land in the hills between 2017 and 2023, according to data from the state’s special anti-drugs unit Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB).
The Meiteis – who cannot buy land in the hills while the tribals, who live in the hills, are allowed to own land in the valley – are worried their place in the valley will shrink over time.
The NSCN (IM), formed in 1980, is led by 85-year-old Thuingaleng Muivah; the other top leader of the group, Isak Chishi Swu, died at 87 of multi-organ failure. Over the years, the NSCN-IM has been accused of killings, extortion and other subversive activities and its persistent demand for separation from India led to a military clampdown on the group.
In 1997, the NSCN-IM entered into a truce with the central government for peace and since then has been continuing dialogue with the centre’s emissaries. In August 2015, the NSCN-IM signed a framework agreement with the government which Prime Minister Narendra Modi described as a “historic” step to usher in peace in the state.