UNLF leaders sign the peace deal with the Manipur government and the Centre
Manipur's oldest valley-based armed group that has been fighting for a sovereign land following the post-Independence merger of the erstwhile kingdom with India has now bade farewell to arms, after six decades of waging a guerilla war against central and state forces.
It is a significant step towards lasting peace in Manipur, which shares a long border with junta-ruled Myanmar and serves as India's main surface transport gateway to Southeast Asia, thus playing a key role in national security.
The Centre and the state government announced the signing of the tripartite peace deal with the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) on Wednesday, and Home Minister Amit Shah credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi's development policies for the northeast as one of the key factors behind the weakening of insurgencies in Manipur and elsewhere in the northeast.
Once headed by Imphal-based social activist RK Meghen, who left the outfit many years ago, the UNLF broke up into two factions after his exit.
The Centre in the announcement of the peace agreement described the UNLF as a "valley-based" armed group to indicate its origins in the state capital Imphal valley and other districts not classified as hill areas. Similarly, at least 25 hill-based insurgent groups are already under a tripartite peace deal called the suspension of operations (SoO) agreement.
Manipur in the past few months has seen ethnic clashes between the hill-majority Kuki tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis over a range of issues, from land and resource crunch to taking a share of the affirmative action Scheduled Tribes (ST) policy. Over 180 have died and thousands have been internally displaced.
The UNLF personnel will be kept in designated camps, sources told NDTV.
Here are some key facts in brief about the UNLF, according to government sources who spoke to NDTV:
The UNLF was formed in November 1964 by Khalanlang Kamei as president, Thangkhopao Singsit as vice president and A Somarendro Singh as general secretary. It set up its armed wing the Manipur Peoples' Army (MPA) in February 1990.
The UNLF favoured a long-term programme to secede from India, form alliance mainly with China and gradually capture political power with the help of an indoctrinated young population and the intelligentsia. It aimed at reclaiming the Kabow Valley in Myanmar.
Personnel And Weapons
The UNLF split into two factions due to internal differences. Jointly, the two factions are estimated to have 400-500 personnel with over 500 weapons of mixed types.
The organisational structure of the UNLF comprises a chairman, central committee (five members), military affairs committee (three members) and standing committee (four members). All of UNLF camps were in Myanmar.
Links With Other Valley-Based Armed Groups
The UNLF was a constituent of the Coordination Committee, known as CorCom, which is an umbrella body of earlier six and currently four groups - RPF/PLA, PREPAK, and PREPAK/PRO. The UNLF is an "unlawful association" under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The UNLF had been carrying out its activities, including violence and propaganda jointly in consultation with the other constituents of CorCom. The close association of these constituents was one of the reasons for valley-based armed groups not responding to offers of coming overground and joining the mainstream.
Areas Of Operation
All valley districts of Manipur - Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal, Bishnupur, Jiribam and Kakching, and some Kuki and Vapiphei dominated villages in the hill districts of Manipur. The UNLF's camps, training centres, hideouts and safehouses are in the Sagaing region of Chin State and Rakhine State in Myanmar. The UNLF had been able to operate freely within Myanmar allegedly due to its close links with officials of the Myanmar military. In recent attacks by pro-democracy civil militia such as the Peoples Defence Forces (PDFs) on the camps of the CorCom groups, the UNLF's Koireng faction led by anti-talks leader RK Achou Singh alias Koireng suffered heavy losses. The PDF militia looted a significant number of weapons from the UNLF's camps.
Linkages And Front Organisations
The UNLF, being the oldest valley-based armed group, had wielded a significant influence on public issues. Most of the impact was through its front organisations that it used to mobilise public protests on key matters.
Return To Mainstream
The senior leaders of the UNLF responded favourably to the Centre's offer to join the mainstream for the first time in 2020. More than 400 personnel with an equal number of weapons joined the peace process, which will have a significant impact on the security scenario of Manipur and the northeast region. The armed personnel of other outfits have also expressed their inclination to join the peace process soon. The disarmament and return of UNLF to the mainstream will give a chance to address the longstanding concerns of Manipur.