Morung Express News
Dimapur | April 29
The situation on Monday remained tense in Sihai village, Ukhrul district (Manipur), as the standoff between the NSCN (IM) and 27 Assam Rifles (AR) continued. With the two parties sticking to their positions, the onus of maintaining peace in the region, as well as among the two sides, has fallen upon civilians of Ukhrul district.
“We will hold a peaceful procession on April 30 (Tuesday) from the nearby Kharasom village till Sihai to give the message of solidarity and peace to all civilians of Sihai and surrounding villages. We are with them,” said Veronica P Zingkhai, President of the Tankhul Shanao Long (TSL).
Women from seven villages of Ukhrul district will join the procession that will give an additional message. “We stand with both the parties, that is, the NSCN (IM) and 27 AR, hoping that they will refrain from any kind of armed conflict and work to re-establish the peace that we have witnessed here over the years,” said Zingkhai.
The peace procession has been necessitated as the Indian military presence grew on April 29. Witnesses reported two helicopters with more than 30 Para Commandos (Special Forces) of the Indian army landing at the Sihai village playground on Monday morning. By evening, at least two-three trucks full of AR personnel were also reported to have reached the spot (5-6km away from Sihai village), where they have surrounded an NSCN (IM) ‘undesignated camp’ with an unknown number of cadres inside.
“Some villagers have fled Sihai and gone to Ukhrul district headquarters,” informed Asha Wungnam, President of the Naga Women’s Union (NWU), who visited the area today in an attempt to mitigate the situation. “We have asked village elders to ask them to return but we cannot blame them.
Civilians remember the pre-1997 ceasefire violence and are obviously scared,” maintained Zingkhai, referring to the heightened militarization.
It was reported that two Sub Divisional Police Officers have been posted at Sihai village and the Deputy Commissioner of Ukhrul district visited the spot on Monday. This could not be confirmed as the DC did not respond to The Morung Express’ phone call. The Superintendent of Police did not respond to messages from the newspaper either.
Up to ‘higher-ups’
On Monday, a civil society team consisted of the NWU, All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur (ANSAM) and the United Naga Council (UNC) met the AR Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Brigadier Mohit Sethi, at a hilltop near the NSCN (IM) camp, from where the latter is personally monitoring the operation.
“We have requested both parties to avoid armed confrontation,” said Joseph Adani, President of the ANSAM. The UNC, NWU and ANSAM were told by the AR that the orders to vacate the camp have come from “higher ups” and it is up to them to settle the matter. The AR officials, however, did not specify who the “higher ups” in this case are.
“If that is the case, then why have they created such a situation on the ground? The peace talks are happening at the highest level and it should be resolved there in which case,” held S Kho John, President of the UNC. The NWU President also maintained that while the civil society is trying its best to get the two sides to avoid armed violence, it is not possible to settle the matter “on the spot” and they will approach NSCN (IM) “higher ups” too.
Meanwhile, “this has started impacting people in the other Naga districts in Manipur State – Chandel, Senapati, Tamenglong,” noted Adani. A common question being asked to the leaders is, “are the Assam Rifles and Government of India not honouring the Indo-Naga peace talks?”
“We appeal to both parties to honour the Indo-Naga peace talks,” said the ANSAM President.
TSL President, Veronica Zingkhai, backed the appeal and reiterated that the peace procession on Tuesday will also be in “support of the Indo-Naga peace talks which should not be disturbed nor should civilians be victimized.”