After 139 days, Naga Council lifts economic blockade on Manipur

The meeting was chaired by the Joint Secretary (North East) of the Union Home Ministry. The BJP’s assurance was that the lifting of the blockade would be the first thing a government led by the party

Written by Esha Roy | Kolkata | Updated: March 20, 2017 9:44 am
A truck driver waits in queue on the highway for the blockade to be lifted on Sunday midnight. (Express/ Oinam Anand)

The United Naga Council (UNC), which had imposed an economic blockade on Manipur to protest the formation of seven new districts, on Sunday said it will lift the restriction from March 19 midnight. The blockade, on for 139 days, had prevented the entry of essential goods from reaching the Imphal valley.

The UNC’s decision, which was a key election plank of the BJP, was announced after tripartite talks between the central government, the Manipur government and the UNC on Sunday in Senapati district of Manipur. The meeting was chaired by the Joint Secretary (North East) of the Union Home Ministry. The BJP’s assurance was that the lifting of the blockade would be the first thing a government led by the party would deliver to the people of Manipur.

On Sunday, a statement issued by the UNC, released four days after Chief Minister N Biren Singh of the BJP took oath, said: “To create a conducive environment for the democratic process of consultation and dialogue, the United Naga Council will lift the economic blockade from tonight.” The UNC statement said that its grievances, which led to the imposition of the blockade, were recognised by the Centre as “non-adherence to the four MoUs” signed between the central government and the UNC before.

“The government of Manipur agrees to start consultation with all stakeholders to address the issues,” said the statement, adding that the state government had agreed to release the UNC leaders arrested last December, including its president G Kamei. The blockade was imposed by the UNC on November 1 soon after former Congress Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh declared the formation of two new districts — Jiribam and Kanpokpi.

The proposed Kanpokpi district formation was in response to a longstanding Kuki tribal demand for a Sadar Hills district. It was renamed Kanpokpi. A week after the UNC announced the blockade, cutting off the entry of essential goods to the Imphal valley, on November 8, Ibobi announced the formation of five more new districts.

Forty-two days into the blockade, the people of the Imphal valley and its civil organisations imposed a counter-economic blockade, preventing goods and people from moving from Imphal to the Hill districts, in particular to the two Naga-dominated ones — Senapati and Ukhrul. The protests turned violent around Christmas when 22 vehicles, carrying Naga tribals back to their villages, were burnt and a Church attacked in Imphal. The next tripartite talks will be held in a month’s time, officials said.

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