VEHICULAR MOVEMENT on National Highway 2, along the Manipur-Nagaland border, remained suspended as an indefinite bandh called by a Naga tribal outfit over a boundary dispute reached its seventh day on Sunday.
On March 21, the Southern Angami Public Organisation (SAPO), an outfit representing the Angami Naga tribe residing in areas bordering Manipur, had called a 72-hour bandh in connection to “permanent structures” and “deployment of armed personnel” at what it referred to as the “disputed” Kezoltsa area by Manipur government.
In response to the SAPO’s call, the All Assam Manipuri Youths’ Association announced an indefinite counter blockade along the Assam part of the same highway from Sunday midnight. It said the blockade would continue until SAPO withdrew the bandh from the Nagaland part of the highway.
Kezoltsa is a forested area located near Dzukou Valley, bordering Nagaland and Manipur. The valley has been a bone of contention between Mao Nagas of Senapati (Manipur) and Southern Angami Nagas of Kohima (Nagaland). The latter claims that Kezoltsa, in Manipur’s Senapati district, is part of the Angami tribal ancestral land, and was “unfairly” made part of Manipur by the British in the colonial era.
On March 23, the SAPO said the 72-hour bandh would become an indefinite bandh, after “getting no response” from the Manipur government.
Adjacent to the picturesque Dzukou Valley, which traditionally has been a bone of contention between Manipur and Nagaland, the disputed Kezoltsa is a forested area located on NH-2. Although the frequency has reduced in recent times, this highway has been the site of several blockades over the years.
Kezoltsa falls on NH-2 (earlier called NH-39), which connects Nagaland to Manipur. It also passes through Assam. The entry and exit of all Manipur-bound private or public passengers, goods carrier vehicles as well as commuters has been restricted since.
A district official from Senapati said the blockade could potentially disrupt supply routes to Manipur. “The blockade has caused some inconvenience to travellers from Manipur, but the situation is not dire yet as no supply chain has been affected. However, if the issue is not resolved, it has the potential to turn into a big economic blockade,” said the official.“This road is known as the lifeline of Manipur… essential supplies are transported through it.”
SAPO president Kevipodi Sophie said the outfit would not call off the bandh till Manipur removes the security personnel from the disputed area.“As Nagas, we adhere to our traditional boundaries – these political boundaries do not supersede our traditional ones. We are only claiming what belongs to us,” he said.
The SAPO also claimed that they had taken several steps requesting the Manipur government to remove the security personnel, citing the 2017 “Arbitration Undertaking” signed by the Tenyimi People’s Organisation (TPO), the apex body of Tenyimi tribes in Nagaland and Manipur, to resolve the dispute in the customary way. “Despite these combinations, there has been no response by the Manipur government and that is why we were compelled to take this step,” he said.
A Mao community leader from Senapati termed the demand made by the SAPO as “ridiculous”, reasoning that Kezoltsa was “inside Manipur”.
“Traditionally Kezoltsa is known as Koziirii amongst the Mao community… the security outpost is situated just at the foothill of Mount Iso, the highest peak in Manipur,” he said. The leader claimed that the Mao community had documentary records and oral accounts when it came to the boundary of Dzukou Valley.
Meanwhile, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, who was recently sworn into office for a second term, on Saturday told the Assembly that the matter would be resolved at the state level, and that the state government has sent an official letter to the Chief Secretary of Nagaland.