Manipur rebel chief’s swindle exposes gaps in rehab scheme

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Leaders of Manipuri underground rebel groups, who are engaged in ceasefire agreements with the government, have been allegedly involved in swindling Central funds meant for rehabilitation of their cadres. Loopholes in the rebel rehabilitation scheme once again came to the fore when leader of the Kangleipak Communist Party– Military Council (KCPMC), Kshetrimayum Hitendra alias Lallumba (41), reportedly swindled Rs 1.92 crore meant for the upkeep of the cadres of his outfit, which is under a ceasefire agreement with the government, with funds provided by the Centre. The outfit has 114 cadres and 10 leaders, who were housed in a makeshift designated camp inside the premises of the 7th Manipur Rifles camp in Khabeishoi, Imphal. The outfit had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the government and entered into a deal with the Centre and Manipur government on August 6, 2010.

According to reports, Lallumba, who originally hails from Thinungei, a town in the Bishnupur district of Manipur, swindled the amount with the help of the staff from the United Bank of India, North AOC branch in Imphal. General Secretary of the outfit, Wahengbam Ramananda alias Rosho Meetei informed that the entire family of Lallumba, along with three cadres of the party, has remained untraceable since 9 June.

The incident has once again brought to light the poor security deployment inside the designated camps of the rebel outfits. Most of these camps are attached to Manipur Rifles, a paramilitary unit under Manipur police, used in counter insurgency operations. It also raises alarms on the lack of monitoring on how Central funds from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) are being disbursed and used for rebel groups under ceasefire agreements in the Northeast.

Over the years, on many occasions, serious differences between government agencies and the rebel groups involved in ceasefire have cropped up in Manipur. But the MHA has denied all such allegations. However, signs of friction within the truce agreement have started cropping up once again now.

There are over 35 rebel outfits operating in Manipur. Over the past two years, there have been a spree of allegations and counter allegations of ceasefire ground rule violations between the security forces and the militant groups.

All this while, the Centre had made it a yearly ritual to renew the Suspension of Operation and ceasefire agreements, without opening up scope for peace dialogues. Till date, about two dozen Zomi and Kuki armed groups in Manipur have signed ceasefire deals with the government. Last year, the Suspension of Operation was extended for the sixth time. At least 17 outfits have refused to sign it demanding that talks be held immediately, but the MHA is yet to pay heed. “People in Manipur allege that this ‘wait and watch’ policy of MHA has created a scope where the rebels and security forces violate the ground rules of ceasefire. At times they get involved in extortion rackets, arms and drug trafficking and swindling of funds. So, at the end of the day, the main purpose of bringing peace takes a back seat,” says I Rabindra, a political science student in Manipur University.

Some of the underground Kuki organisations allege that the government has deliberately failed to provide even the basic rehabilitation package to the surrendered cadres, despite several years having lapsed since it was assured during the signing of ceasefire deals. Meanwhile, the government is yet to assign designated camps for the cadres of the banned KCP Lanheiba faction despite this being a part of the ceasefire agreement.

In recent times, the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), an umbrella organization of 16 Kuki rebel outfits under ceasefire, has made several threats to resume armed struggle and secede from Manipur, citing the disinterest of the government to begin serious dialogue even after seven years since the Suspension of Operation deal was signed on November 2005.

“An intense lack of trust prevails amongst our brothers, due to the government’s negligence towards the welfare of the cadres in the three designated camps and the repeated failure to keep up with the terms of the MoU,” says a high ranking KNO official. “Even though New Delhi officially intimated to the KNO on 13 December 2012, a written assurance to begin a political dialogue, the government was not serious to sign an extension of the Suspension of Operation. Till now, tripartite talks between the Union Government, Government of Manipur and the KNO have remained inconclusive and the government is yet to come up with a viable solution. However, the ceasefire is intact because of our effort to maintain goodwill and in giving peace a chance, at all cost,” he adds.

Earlier at a press conference in May, members of the KCP Lallumba had threatened to vacate the 7th Manipur Rifles Khabeisoi Camp in Imphal West district, claiming that the surrendered cadres were being ill treated by the Assam Rifles personnel and the state security personnel, stationed at the outpost.

Meanwhile, the apprehension amongst the KNO cadres has continued to rise after talks between National Socialist Council of Nagaland-IM and the Centre seemed close to a settlement, while the seven-year-old Suspension of Operation agreement between the KNO and the Government of India has not yet resulted into a fully fledged peace parley.

Coming out strongly against the ‘indifferent attitude’ of the MHA, the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC), the apex body of the Kuki civil society, called for a strike and highway blockade on 7-8 July, during which bandh supporters torched eight vehicles and vandalised several others. “The Centre had given us assurances to start talks at the political level but the promises were never kept. Hence, we have been compelled to resume the agitation,” KSDC spokesperson Guite said, while threatening more agitations if the government fails on other commitments.

(With inputs from RK Suresh in Imphal)

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