Manipur: Stationing of troops in Kamjong timed with Naga talks?
Kamjong: At a time when the rest of the world is living in the Internet age, in which information travels around the globe in seconds and made accessible to users like never before, people living along the eastern frontier of the India-Myanmar border areas in Manipur’s Kamjong district are relatively batting against all dimensions of underdevelopment, including communications and connectivity, or the lack of them.
So, when troops of Assam Rifles landed in the frontier areas recently, locals were reportedly taken aback with mixed feelings -- either to embrace the new development or remain in ambiguity of their presence.
The locals were surprised because unlike other times when security forces make themselves visible only when they patrol the border area and normally don’t station in the area for too long, this time, troops of Assam Rifles brought with them stocks of ration supplies before camping in the areas.
Team EastMojo recently made a field visit to those areas, including Khayang, Phungtha, Chamu, Hangkou Kaphung, Sahamphung and Mapum villages of the district to know the ground situation amid reports of the presence of a large number of troops of the Assam Rifles in the region.
Incidentally, the latest development comes at a time when the government of India and the Naga groups, led by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), are reportedly on a verge of signing the final pact to the 22-year-old protracted Naga peace negotiations.
While interacting with the residents of Phungtha village, this correspondent found out that there is an air of unease over the sudden presence of about 50 security personnel led by a Major-rank officer in the area.
With little means of receiving information from district headquarters, the villagers were seemingly curious to know if another war-like situation is going to break out after seeing the vigilant forces being stationed and patrolling in the area.
Their thoughts even went to such an extent that they started pondering on questions like, ‘Will they have to relocate to another place if the situation gets tense in their village?’, among others.
Most of the villagers are reportedly yet to come to terms from the trauma they had to go through when armed forces allegedly manhandled the men in the villages and imposed a curfew for a night and two days in 1989.
Recalling the incident, Mary, now a grandmother to six kids, told this correspondent that most of the men in the village were interrogated and some were brutally beaten up after the forces found out that a Naga militant group was present in the village.
When asked, if cadres of the NSCN-IM often take shelter in the village, Shimreisa, a pastor at Phungtha Baptist Church, said: “The village, being one of the last points of reach at the border areas, villagers are often forced to open doors to all, be it the NSCN-IM, Imphal valley-based PLA or other Myanmar-based militant groups.”
Similarly, in Chamu village, where over 100 troops of the Assam Rifles are temporarily stationing, locals living along the bordering areas are being interrogated while passing the area.
Ngathingkhui, a resident of Hangou Kaphung, said: “Even though they don’t do anything wrong to us, whenever they come for routine patrol in our village, women and children feel unsafe.”
“Most of us (men) are busy nowadays at the paddy fields tending to harvest work, so those who are left behind at home are mostly children and old-age people,” Ngathingkhui added.
Meanwhile, a top official of the Assam Rifles who’s on the ground, clarified that the presence of troops in the area was a routine check to avoid any illegal activities happening along the border.
“We keep coming here every now and then to show our presence. As far as the Naga Framework Agreement is concerned, it is on a positive note and we hope the best will come out from the talks,” said the official, who refused to be named.
The armed forces, according to the official, however may continue to stay on as the Naga peace negotiations are reportedly on track of bringing lasting solutions and to avoid any untoward incidents during the course of time.
At present, the armed forces have made their presence felt at four Tangkhul Sambu Raiping areas, namely Mapum, Sahamphung, Chamu and Phungtha.
Likewise, there are also reports of having a large presence of Assam Rifles personnel in other parts of the Tangkhul-inhabited areas of the state.