(MENAFN- IANS) By Sujit Chakraborty
Imphal, May 29 (IANS) As Manipur continues to reel under ethnic unrest since May 3, which claimed the lives of over 75 people besides injuring 300 others, Kuki tribals and Kuki militant outfits have become the focal point.
There are 2,266 Kuki cadres who have have been staying in different designated camps in Manipur after the Centre and the Manipur governments signed the tripartite Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement with three outfits -- the Kuki National Army (KNA), Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), and Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) -- on August 22, 2008.
Officials in Manipur alleged that the cadres of KNA, ZRA and KRA are instigating the poppy cultivators in the state against the government, which has been taking action against illegal poppy cultivators by destroying poppy fields in the forest lands, especially in the reserve and protected forests.
However, an umbrella organisation of the Kuki outfits has dismissed the accusations.
On March 10, the tribals organised protest rallies against the state government on this count in three districts that were also allegedly backed by the Kuki militants.
The rallies in several places turned violent, injuring many, while the Manipur government unilaterally withdrew itself from the SoO deal the very next day.
The Manipur government's decision to withdraw from the SoO and the tripartite agreement with three insurgent groups on March 10 was in accordance with its assessment that these outfits were also supporting the influx of Myanmarese immigrants from across the border, encouraging illegal poppy cultivation and the drugs trade.
However, the Central government is yet to approve the Manipur government's decision to withdraw from the SoO deal.
On April 9, the Kuki Independent Army (KIA) looted 25 sophisticated arms from the armoury of three militant groups staying in their designated camps at Chungkhao in Churachandpur district bordering Myanmar.
The Manipur police launched a probe into the looting of arms by the militants of the KIA (also known as the Kuki Independent Organisation), which is a non-signatory of the tripartite ceasefire pact with the governments.
The arms loot took place three days after the Manipur police announced a reward of Rs 50,000 to any person who provides information leading to the arrest of KIA chief Thangkhongam Haokip (40).
The hilly and forested Churachandpur district in southern Manipur, which borders Myanmar and Mizoram, is home to various Kuki-Chin militant groups.
The Kukis are hill tribes spread across Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, besides Myanmar and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh.
On September 13, 1993, militants belonging to National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah) had allegedly massacred over a hundred Kuki civilians in the hills of Manipur.
However, the NSCN-IM strongly refutes the killings.
The rivalry between the Nagas and the Kukis started in the colonial era.
In 1990, there were clashes over land. Kukis often claimed that 350 Kuki villages were uprooted, over 1,000 were killed and 10,000 people were displaced. Chins are called Kukis on the Indian side.
Ever since the non-tribal Meitei community members started demanding to categorise them as Scheduled Tribe around one-and-a-half decades ago, the Kuki tribals and their various organisations have been strongly opposing the demand saying that if the Meitei community is declared as tribals, their (Kukis) share of benefits as tribals will be curtailed and the people belonging to the Meitei community will be allowed to purchase land in the hilly areas.
Claiming over 75 lives and injuring over 300 people besides damaging government and private properties, the northeastern state witnessed unprecedented violent clashes in more than 10 districts during and after the May 3 'Tribal Solidarity March' called by the All Tribal Students' Union of Manipur to oppose the demand for inclusion of the Meitei community in the ST category.
Acting on a writ petition filed by the Meetei (Meitei) Trade Union, the Manipur High Court's acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidaran had on April 19 directed the state government to submit the recommendation for inclusion of Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry.
The high court order snowballed into a major controversy with thousands of tribals turning up for the 'Tribal Solidarity March' in 10 hill districts on May 3.
Amid the ethnic violence, 10 tribal MLAs, belonging to the Kuki community, have demanded a separate state for the Manipur tribals.
The 10 legislators, including seven ruling BJP MLAs, also sent a memorandum to Union Home Minister Amit Shah in support of their demand.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Education, Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that in complete dismay and frustration, Kuki leaders, including their 10 MLAs, have demanded a separate political administration (equivalent to a separate state) for the tribals.
Singh said the demand was made under tremendous pressure from various quarters, including the Kuki militants.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at )
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