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Explained: What is PLA, responsible for attack on Assam Rifles convoy in Manipur?

The People's Liberation Army has claimed responsibility for the ambush of an Assam Rifles convoy in Churachandpur district of Manipur, killing seven, including a Commanding Officer. What is the PLA?

Written by Esha Roy , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 16, 2021 8:53:31 am
At least six other personnel were injured in the attack which returned the spotlight to the decades-old insurgency in the state. (File)

The People’s Liberation Army and the Manipur Naga People’s Front have jointly claimed responsibility for the ambush of an Assam Rifles convoy on Saturday (November 13) morning in Churachandpur district of Manipur, killing seven, including a Commanding Officer, his wife and their five-year-old son. The ambush is one of the biggest in the state since the attack on the Dogra Rifles in 2015.

What is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)?

The group was founded on September 25, 1978, under the leadership of N. Bisheshwar, after having broken away from its parent body, the United National Liberation Front. In 1979, the PLA’s political wing Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) was set up. Like the UNLF, and many other splinter groups that would follow, the PLA was fighting for the secession of Manipur from India. While the PLA called for Kuki and Naga insurgents to join their ranks, it remains till this day dominated by the Imphal valley-based Meitei Hindu insurgents.

Also, like other Meitei underground groups, in its initial years, PLA cadres were trained by the NSCN and hold Marxist ideology. Its political wing, the RPF campaigned against the use of drugs, and banned alcohol in the state, often using violent means to impose these bans. Considered one of the strongest groups in Manipur, the PLA has been working out of Myanmar where they continue to have camps, like the other Meitei groups, and remain active with no ceasefire agreement with the Indian government, and have so far not expressed any intent of peace talks with India.

Manipur CM N Biren Singh pays his last respects to those killed in an ambush at Sehkan village, Singhat Sub-Division, Churachandpur district. (PTI Photo)

Why has the ambush taken place in Churachandpur?

Insurgent leaders in the state, as well as experts point out that Saturday’s ambush has been a departure on several counts. In the past, ambushes and attacks on Indian security forces have taken place in Chandel district of Manipur, which also borders the highly porous Indo-Myanmar border. This includes one of the biggest ambushes in the country in Chandel by insurgents which led to the killing of 18 soldiers of the Dogra Rifles and injuring 16 others. Since the Indian Army’s Operation All Clear in 2003-4, active insurgents have been driven out of the country into Myanmar – especially in the Churachandpur area which has remained largely peaceful, with over 20 Kuki, Paitei and Zomi groups being under Suspension of Operation agreements with the Indian government.

The valley groups also do not operate from this district. Bahiang, where the attack has taken place, borders Myanmar, but falls under the territorial jurisdiction of the Zomi Revolutionary Army, a powerful insurgent group in Churachandpur. The question that local insurgent leaders have been asking is, how the PLA could have operated in this area without ZRA permission, and have pointed to ZRA’s security lapse.

Insurgent leaders have also pointed to the Myanmar coup as a reason for both the revival of insurgent activity as well as the choice of Churachandpur. The district neighbours Chin state in Myanmar where the political situation has been tenuous and there have been reports of human rights violations. An active People’s Defence Force, the armed wing of the National Unity Government, which claims to be Myanmar’s legitimate government, is believed to have pushed Indian insurgent groups towards the Indian border.

Why is Saturday’s attack different?

While there have been reports of women and children being attacked in the 1990s – during the clashes between the Nagas and the Kukis in Manipur – since then, this is the first attack in which an Indian security officer’s family has been killed. Later in the evening, while claiming responsibility, the PLA and MNPF said that they were unaware that the commanding officer was being accompanied by his family.

But what experts have found most surprising is the seeming revival of PLA activity, that too in such a violent manner. The PLA has been one of the most active groups in the past, but has remained dormant over the past 5-6 years. Leaders in other groups have pointed out that even in social programmes organised by insurgent groups – such as anti-drug campaigns, anti-AFSPA and other such protests – have been shunned by the PLA. So, their sudden violent activity on Saturday has caused surprise.

What is the status of valley groups in Manipur?

Unlike the tribal groups – such as the Naga NSCN-IM and NNPGs, or the 20 odd Kuki/Zomi groups which are in peace talks with the Indian government – the Meitei valley-groups have till date not come to the table to discuss a solution with the Indian Government. There are six main valley groups in Manipur – the UNLF, PLA, KCP, KYKL, PREPAK, MPLF – apart from numerous splinter groups from each. All the groups operate out of Myanmar and raise funds for operations and arms largely through extortion. They use guerrilla tactics in their operations and the attacks on Indian security forces in the north east are largely carried out by these groups. Their activity over the years has dwindled, however, with recruitment having stalled on one hand, and Myanmar’s increasing cooperation with India in recent years, placing pressure on the groups.

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