Even as the Naga peace talks continue, the Government of India is looking at concluding peace talks with the 23 Kuki and Zomi groups which have had Suspension of Operation agreements with the Indian government for the past decade.
“Talks are under way. We are hoping to arrive at an agreement soon. We cannot put a timeline on it as it is a complex issue, and we are looking at the charter of demands the groups have placed before us,” said A B Mathur, Government of India interlocutor for the Kuki talks. The former special secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing is also the government’s interlocutor for talks with ULFA. Churachandpur, Pherzawl and Kangpokpi are Kuki-dominated areas in Manipur while the volatile Chandel district, which neighbours Myanmar, has a mix of Kuki, Naga and Meitei populations.
It is in Chandel that the Naga-Kuki clashes of 1992 began, for control of the lucrative border town of Moreh, and spread across the state over a few years. As many as 115 Kuki men, women and children were believed to have been killed by the NSCN-IM in Tengnoupal in 1993 — a day still marked by the Kuki as a ‘black day’.
P S Haokip, president of one of the biggest Kuki outfits — the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) — expects the talks to conclude by early next year. While the KNO’s armed wing — the Kuki National Army (KNA) — is one of the strongest in the region, there are 17 other armed groups, including the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) and Kuki National Front (KNF), which fall under its umbrella. Another six armed groups come under the United Revolutionary Front (UPF).
Insurgency issues interlinked
According to the 2011 census, there are 6.6 lakh Kuki and Zomi living in Manipur. A solution with the Kuki-Zomi groups is as essential as one with the banned Naga groups, as villages belonging to Naga and Kuki tribes are often contiguous. The Kuki insurgency has also been seen as a backlash to the Naga movement, with Kuki arming themselves against Naga aggression.
“There is no conflict between our peace talks and the government’s peace talks with Nagas — as long as they don’t touch our territory or any of our villages. We will be happy if they get their separate flag and constitution,” said P S Haokip, adding that such demands have not been made by the Kuki who want to live “within the framework of the Indian Constitution”.
To once and for all put down their guns, the Kuki banned groups have demanded a Kukiland Territorial Council, which would have financial and administrative powers independent of the Manipur Assembly and government.
Since the Suspensions of Operation agreements were signed with the 23 Kuki-Zomi groups, the cadres living in the camps get a stipend of Rs 3,000 a month from the Indian government. This was increased to Rs 5,000 two years ago. “The cadres were not paid for 22 months in 2013, and just before the 2014 elections a year’s remuneration was released,” said P S Haokip, adding that the government has to look at rehabilitating these cadres, numbering around 1,500.
Jacob Haokip, convener of UPF and UKLF ceasefire monitoring committee chairman, said, “We no longer demand a separate Kukiland. We are happy to stay within the Manipur state territorially. But we need a Kukiland Territorial Council. Leaders of all groups should be accommodated in this council.”
He added that the KNO and UPF also want the Manipur Assembly to be expanded to accommodate more elected representatives from tribal areas.
“Churachandpur and other Kuki areas have lagged behind in terms of development. This is because of the skewed manner in which funds are given and spent. We want a separate council so the funds come directly to us from the Centre, and not routed through the state government,” said P S Haokip.