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A Way Out of Naga Factional Violence

Namrata Goswami was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • July 23, 2008

    Nagaland has been up in flames for quite sometime now. For the past eight months or so, heavy inter-factional killings between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isak-Muivah [NSCN (IM)], the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang [NSCN (K)], and the newly formed National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Unification [NSCN (U)], have been vitiating the atmosphere there. On July 9, clashes between the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (U) in Diphupar village led to the death of a few insurgents. Earlier, on June 24, NSCN (IM) launched a frontal attack on the headquarters of NSCN (U) in Vihokhu village killing some 10 of the latter’s cadres.

    The Union Government’s Cease-fire Monitoring Board’s July 7 decision to establish a “designated camp” in Khehoi village for the NSCN (U), in case a cease-fire were to materialise, has led to further tension in Naga areas, with the NSCN (IM) leadership openly voicing its protest against this decision. The proposed NSCN (U) designated camp is a mere two and a half kilometres from the current Vihokhu camp of the NSCN (U). Camp Hebron, the NSCN (IM) designated camp and headquarters, is also housed in the vicinity. Moreover, the government has also proposed setting up a NSCN (K) designated camp in Khehoi village.

    The proposed establishment of rival designated camps at such close proximity is a recipe for disaster. Indeed, it has already caused an increase in inter-factional violence in recent months. The June 24 incident mentioned above is an example in this regard. In May and June alone, more than 40 insurgent cadres from the three factions as well as non-combatants have been killed in insurgent cross-fire. The worst fall out of proximate insurgent camps was never more visibly demonstrated than the June 4 bloodbath by the NSCN (IM) when it killed 14 NSCN (K) cadres between Aoyim and Xelhozhe villages near Siethekima, about 16 km from Dimapur where the NSCN (K) has an underground camp. In a similar attack on NSCN (U) camp at Vihokhu on May 16, NSCN (IM) killed 12 of the former’s cadres.

    Another reason for the increase in factional violence is the imperative of controlling territory. Villages in and around the designated camps are full of cadres of the three factions who openly carry arms and run extortion networks. Nevertheless, the NSCN (IM) is the dominant actor and controls the population to a large extent in these villages through its wide social network as well as the greater firepower it wields. However, villagers indicate that the November 2007 split in the NSCN (IM) has shaken the outfit’s morale to a large extent. This is because Azheto Chophy and the 100 or more NSCN (IM) deserters who went on to form the NSCN (U) enjoy a well established social network in the area and pose a real challenge to the NSCN (IM)’s authority. It must be noted that it is crucial for Naga insurgent outfits to dominate the areas in and around Dimapur since it enables them to control the flow of goods to other areas in the state. Most commodities in the Dimapur market are subject to NSCN (IM) taxes, which is a major resource generator for the outfit. Thus, it is unlikely that it would accept any loss of control over territory to rival factions without violent resistance.

    The NSCN (IM)’s hold on Naga society is also under doubt after civil society bodies like the Western Sumi Hoho, which had earlier supported the outfit, shifted their loyalty to the NSCN (U). Consequently, the NSCN (IM) has increased its violent activities in and around Dimapur to showcase its power and resolve. Though such violence could alienate the support base in the long term, the fact remains that it guarantees the outfit’s leadership a distinct hold on power in the short term.

    Naga civil society bodies have openly protested against the ongoing inter-factional violence. On July 24, 2007, the Joint Forum of Goan Burahs (village headmen) and Doabashis (elders) [JFGBDB] issued a six month underground cease-fire notice in Dimapur (the cease-fire was extended for six months on December 7, 2007 and again for a year on June 7, 2008). This was followed by a massive public rally on December 14, 2007 organized by the Naga Hoho (Council) and attended by thousands of people across tribes. This rally also had the support of the United Naga Council, tribal Hohos, the Naga Mothers’ Association, Naga Students’ Federation, etc. The most poignant form of protest against factional violence, however, occurred on May 20 when, for the first time in Nagaland, tens of thousands of Nagas took part in a peace march across all districts seeking the retreat of insurgents from civilian areas, an immediate end to factional fighting and extortions, as well as adherence to the cease-fire ground rules agreed to by the Union government and the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (K) in 1997 and 2001 respectively. Another important effort in this direction was an inclusive consultative meeting undertaken in Chiang Mai, Thailand, between July 4 and 5 under the aegis of the Naga Reconciliation Forum, Baptist World Alliance and the UK based Quaker group involving representatives from Naga civil society, the churches as well as the NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K). Sadly though, even as the meeting was underway, NSCN (K) attacked the NSCN (IM) at 4 mile, Dimapur, thus forestalling any hope of an end to violence.

    The biggest casualty in this tragic drama of inter-factional violence is the cease-fire. Not only are ground rules openly flouted by both groups but most insurgents are clueless about what the rules actually are. Even the security forces personnel, be they from the police or the paramilitary, are not well versed with the cease-fire ground rules. Worse still, in June 2008, cadres of the NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) actually admitted to the national media that they often broke cease-fire rules. For instance, according to cease-fire rules, both the NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) cadres [the NSCN (U) is not under any cease-fire agreement with the government] are to be confined to designated camps and carrying of arms in civilian areas is banned. No one follows these rules and armed insurgent cadres are found moving in civilian areas with the state police looking the other way. The change of guard of the government’s cease-fire monitor, Lieutenant General (Retd.) R.V. Kulkarni by M.L. Kumawat, special secretary (internal security) on June 2 is not helping matters much as the NSCN (IM) is openly resisting Kumawat’s moves for a truce between the factions. They view Kumawat as pro-NSCN (K) especially after he proposed establishing a designated camp for the latter at Khehoi village. Incidentally, the way to the proposed designated camp passes through 4 Mile, Dimapur, which is a NSCN (IM) stronghold, and is thus likely to result in greater violence. Also, the topography of the area for the proposed designated camps is mountainous and thickly forested with very little state security cover. Consequently, the first to suffer from any factional fight would be the villages housed between rebel camps. It is thus unwise to propose establishing rival rebel camps in close proximity, given non-compliance with cease-fire ground rules, inefficient state security cover for villagers during inter-factional fighting and consequent non-combatant deaths.

    The only way out of factional violence in the short term is perhaps to strengthen existing local mechanisms of conflict resolution in Naga society. An example in this regard was the swiftness with which the Diphupar ‘B’ Village Council chairman Kakiho Sumi and headman L.P. Therie and Sovima Village Council Chairman Neikhriehu and headman Ravakhrie controlled the April 24-25 factional clashes by openly demanding insurgent withdrawal from civilian areas. Significantly, the villagers rallied around their Councils and protested in front of the NSCN (IM)’s Cease-fire Monitoring Cell at Diphupar for its repeated non-compliance with cease-fire ground rules. Significantly, the NSCN (IM) expressed willingness to discuss cease-fire related issues with the villagers.

    Another example of Naga society’s handling of recurring insurgent violence is the May 12 incident at Sethekiebasa village in the 4 Mile area of Dimapur. On that day, heavy factional fighting broke out between the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (U), which was stopped not by the security forces but by the residents of the village themselves. This village has been at the forefront of factional violence since November 2007 as the NSCN (U) camp at Vihokhu is not very far from it. In order to stop the fight, village elders and residents set up a loud speaker in a nearby paddy field, steps away from the adjacent field where heavy firing was underway between the factions. As violence raged into the night, around two hundred villagers gathered in the paddy field and appealed to cadres of both sides in Nagamese, the local dialect, “Morom kori kena itu jaga charedibi. Bosti manu laga jaga chari dibi” (Please kindly vacate this area in peace. Please leave the village people’s land). As recounted by the villagers later, this appeal succeeded in ending the violence.

    Perhaps, this is one of the most viable way out of factional violence in Nagaland, albeit, not given much thought in high policy circles. The other alternative is to strengthen the JFGBDB cease-fire, which has been extended for a year on June 7 as it deals with inter-factional violence. Finally, it is only society that could act as mediators among outfits to stop violence especially when designated camps for each are proposed to be placed at such close quarters and the state forces have largely failed in their task to monitor the violent and illegal activities of insurgent outfits.