Neighbours at Each Other’s Throats

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Blame game Mizoram CM Lalthanhawla (top); Tripura CM Manik Sarkar
Blame game Mizoram CM Lalthanhawla (top); Tripura CM Manik Sarkar
Photos: (Top) Shailendra Pandey, UB Photos

ON 7 MARCH, Assam Rifles and Mizoram Police seized a huge arms cache on the outskirts of Mizoram’s capital Aizawl. The biggest ever seizure in the state’s history, the haul included 31 AK series rifles, a Browning automatic rifle, a 5.56 mm Light Machine Gun, 49 loaded magazines and 809 rounds of ammunition. Three tribals from neighbouring Bangladesh were nabbed.

Within a week, Tripura Finance Minister Badal Chowdhury blamed the Mizoram government for aiding the underground outfits of Tripura. “Our ground intelligence suggested the Lalthanhawla government is aiding the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT). The recent arms haul in Aizawl confirms this.”

The Mizoram government, however, dismissed these allegations as “grossly exaggerated and factually incorrect”, and hit back at Chowdhury for “overlooking the fact that the CID (Crime) of Mizoram Police led the arms seizure while the Assam Rifles was just lending a hand”. Contrary to Chowdhury’s claim, initial investigations have revealed the arms were not meant for the NLFT, but a Bangladesh-based outfit of Chakma tribals, the Parbotia Chatagram Jana Sangata Samiti (PCJSS) faction of Shanti Bahini. Assam Rifles chief Lt Gen Ranbir Singh too has confirmed this. Intelligence officials believe Tripura is the backyard from where the Chakma rebels of Bangladesh operate even now.

This is not the first time the Tripura government has accused its Mizoram counterpart of being hand-in-glove with insurgents. Just ahead of the February Assembly polls in Tripura, the ruling Left Front (LF) alleged that the insurgents had hideouts in Mizoram and Bangladesh, and could sneak into Tripura to attack LF supporters during the election campaign. But the apprehensions never came true and the polling was peaceful.

Earlier, when insurgency was at its peak in Tripura in 2003, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar had alleged that underground groups from the state have a free run in neighbouring Mizoram. The Tripura government claims to have given lists of insurgent camps in Mizoram to New Delhi several times, a fact that even Union home ministry sources corroborate.

The roots of this distrust can be traced back to the 1980s when Tripura saw the rise of tribal insurgency led by the Tripura National Volunteers, founded by Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl. According to intelligence sources, it was in the forests of Mizoram that many of the insurgents were trained.

Mizoram itself had seen three decades of insurgency until the 1986 Mizo Accord between the Centre and the Mizo National Front (MNF) led by Laldenga. Though the insurgency stopped, Mizoram has remained a transit point for insurgents, gun runners and drug traffickers.

On its part, Mizoram has always alleged that the Central funds provided to Bru refugees from Mizoram, who stay in relief camps in North Tripura district, was being diverted to two underground outfits — the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) and the Bru Liberation Front of Mizoram (BLFM). Though most BNLF and BLFM cadres have surrendered, a few splinter groups still operate in Mizoram.

Ethnic clashes with the Mizos had forced around 40,000 Brus to leave Mizoram in 1997. After rounds of negotiations, many of them started returning. Around 800 of the 6,000 families that had gone to Tripura had returned by 2012, when Mizoram stopped the repatriation fearing a repeat of the violence.

Tripura has always denied Mizoram’s claim that the number of Bru refugees in the North Tripura relief camps is “highly inflated” and wrongly includes many from the Reang tribe (of Tripura) who have started living in those camps. “This distrust between the two state governments is a stumbling block in sorting out the Bru refugees issue,” says Suhas Chakma, director of the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights.

Recently, Mizoram Home Minister R Lalzirliana told the media that the NLFT has recruited around 20 Bru youths from the refugee camps in North Tripura and has been using them in abduction bids across the Mizoram-Tripura border.

“Mizoram has used the NLFT for eliminating cadres of the Bru outfits in their bases in Bangladesh, while Tripura has used the Bru refugees as bait in its relations with Mizoram,” says a top Military Intelligence officer on condition of anonymity. “This distrust between them has allowed insurgents and drug traffickers to use Bangladesh’s borders with the states as a transit route.”

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Special Correspondent

A young IT professional by training and a journalist by chance, Ratnadip comes from the smallest Northeastern state of Tripura and has been reporting out of Northeast India for ten years, as of 2014. An award winning Journalist, Ratnadip started his career with the Tripura Observer and went on to work with the Northeast Sun, The Northeast Today, News Live, Sahara Time and The Sunday Indian. He has also contributed to BBC, CNN, NatGeo TV, NDTV, CNN-IBN and TIMES NOW. Before joining Tehelka, Ratnadip worked with the national bureau of the television news channel NewsX. He specialises in conflict reporting and has a keen interest in India’s eastern neighbours. He has won the RedInk Excellence in Journalism Award 2013, Northeast Green Journo Award 2013, LAADLI Media awards for Gender sensitivity 2013. He is among 10 young Indian scholars selected by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on trans-boundary river issues of the subcontinent. He is based in Guwahati.

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