As UNLF signs peace pact, Kukis keep up demand for separate admin

UNLF, the oldest Meitei ‘valley-based armed group’ in Manipur, signs a peace deal in New Delhi even as Kuki-Zo tribals hit the streets in nine towns demanding a separate administration

File photo of a protest at Delhi's Jantar Mantar against the Biren Singh-led-BJP government in Manipur (photo: National Herald archives)
File photo of a protest at Delhi's Jantar Mantar against the Biren Singh-led-BJP government in Manipur (photo: National Herald archives)

Shalini Sahay

Union home minister Amit Shah on Wednesday posted on X about the successful negotiations with Manipur-based insurgent group United National Liberation Front (UNLF).  “UNLF, the oldest valley-based armed group of Manipur has agreed to renounce violence and join the mainstream. I welcome them to the democratic processes and wish them all the best in their journey on the path of peace and progress,” Shah wrote on X.

The announcement was greeted in the Imphal Valley as a major step toward peace; but in the hills, it was seen differently as social media posts indicated. “Peace Accord brokered by N Biren Singh on behalf of proscribed terrorists UNLF (Pambei Group) is a ploy to bring Myanmar based proscribed terrorists to Manipur to annihilate Kuki-Zo,” read one of them. Others pointed out that UNLF had engaged in a ‘war’ with the Indian Army and had killed several army personnel in the past.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Indian Express reported that in its 14th report submitted on 21 October, the Supreme Court-appointed panel headed by Justice Geeta Mittal had blamed civil society groups for 38 families refusing to accept a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for each life lost in Manipur's ethnic violence since 3 May.

The committee apparently recommended that the court issue instructions to Kuki civil society groups not to interfere in the process and obstruct payment to affected families. Curiously, the same report claims that according to Manipur state government records, 175 people lost their lives from 3 May to 7 October.

As many as 73 families had, according to the report, received the compensation and in 58 cases, verification was pending. In which case, the report does not explain why the committee is blaming civil society groups for allegedly obstructing the process.

During the day, meanwhile, thousands of Kuki-Zo tribals took out rallies under the umbrella of civil society organisation Zo United to demand a separate administration for Kuki-Zo tribes in Manipur. Processionists held placards bearing slogans reading 'separate administration is the only solution', 'Meitei government, down, down', 'tribal area, tribal government', and 'no solution, no rest'.

The organisers claimed "203 tribal villages had been completely burnt down, 7,000 houses reduced to ashes, 152 lives lost, and more than 50,000 people displaced" in the violence during the past seven months.

Citing escalating tension and eroding trust between Meiteis and tribal groups, speakers claimed that ‘Kuki-Zo kindred tribes’ had once flourished in Imphal and prosperous valley areas, but have been forcibly displaced, with key institutions like technical institutes, hospitals, offices, and the state’s only airport now inaccessible to them.

Accusing the government and police of openly siding with the majority community, Zo United claimed that funds meant for tribal development were being misappropriated by NGOs, with the chief minister’s support, citing an incident where the CM allegedly requested approval for significant projects for Meitei NGOs from a Union minister, reported news portal East Mojo.

The removal of a chapter on 'The Kuki' from school books by the N Biren Singh government, discrimination against tribal students, and difficulties faced by displaced tribal medical students were some other grounds cited in favour of the demand for a separate administration. In addition, essential supplies including Central government aid had been blocked by Meitei mobs, preventing their distribution to tribal areas, the speakers alleged.

In a memorandum addressed to the Union home minister, Zo United outlined a desperate need for a separate administration, emphasised historical contributions of the Manipur tribal community to India’s independence struggle, and the sustained campaign against them as "illegal immigrants".

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