The New Samtal area in Manipur’s Chandel district, where a militant attack on Thursday killed 18 personnel of 6 Dogra Regiment, has for decades been the epicentre of operation of various insurgent groups in the state.
Located close to the Indo-Myanmar border, the district has witnessed numerous turf wars between the Indian Army and militants and among the insurgent groups themselves.
A hilly area, Chandel district peters off into the border town of Moreh before descending into the hot and humid plains of Myanmar.
In 1992, Naga insurgent group NSCN(IM)’s attempt to dominate Moreh was rebuffed by the dominant Kukis of the area. In violent clashes between the Nagas and the Kukis, 1,000 Kukis were killed, 360 Kuki villages were razed to the ground and around 100,000 were rendered homeless. These clashes led to emergence of Kuki insurgent groups in the state.
Currently, there are 20 Kuki groups in Manipur, but all of them are under Suspension of Operation Agreements with the government. Apart from Kuki groups, most insurgent groups (the Meitei underground groups) were based in Chandel before being expunged by the Army.
The only groups to have not entered any agreement with the government, neither a ceasefire like the Naga groups, nor suspension of operation like the Kuki Groups, are valley groups such as United National Liberation Front, People’s Liberation Army, Kangleipak Liberation Party, KYKL and Prepak which continue to operate from across the Myanmar border.
The NSCN (K), led by S S Khaplang, a Burmese Naga, has over the decades provided shelter and arms to these groups. Incidentally, NSCN (K) withdrew from its ceasefire agreement with the government earlier this year.
The district is also known to be a hub of cross border smuggling of arms and drugs.
New Samtal, on its part, has a violent history and had been under the sway of UNLF for decades till as recently as 2008 when they were forced to flee to Myanmar after persistent army operations in the area.
Last month, Kuki National Liberation Front had alleged high handedness by the Dogra Regiment when they were forced to relocate their camp from Semon village in New Samtal.The villagers had fled their homes after having they were reportedly harassed by the surrendered group and had taken refuge with the 6th Dogra Regiment.