Mizoram: Out of Sight
By Veronica Khangchian
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
In the night of November 23, 2013, just ahead of the November 25 Mizoram Assembly Elections, at least three persons were abducted by the Tripura based National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) from the Damparengpui village near the abandoned Chikha Anti-Poaching Camp inside the Dampa Tiger Reserve in the Mamit District of Western Mizoram, adjoining the Bangladesh-Tripura border.
A Police officer disclosed that the armed NLFT rebels abducted Deep Mondal, an official of a Delhi-based telecom company and resident of Kolkota (West Bengal); Sanglianthanga, a resident of Mamit District who was driving Mondal's vehicle; and the driver of another vehicle, identified as Lalzamliana. All the three worked for the telecom company.
On December 6, Mizoram Police officials stated that NLFT cadre, who abducted the trio, had demanded a ransom of INR 50 million for Mondal's release. A senior Police official indicated that the ransom demand was made directly to the telecom company. The abductors had not demanded any ransom for the two Mizos abducted along with Mondal.
The Border Security Force (BSF) has sought the help of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) to secure Mondal's release. According to Mizoram Police, NLFT has taken the abducted trio to a place deep inside Bangladeshi territory. Mizoram shares unfenced borders with Myanmar (404 kilometres) and Bangladesh (318 kilometres). Nearly 62 kilometres of the border with Bangladesh in Mamit District is unfenced. According to the Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who also holds the Home portfolio, the NLFT has about 18 camps in various parts of Bangladesh, especially in the south-eastern region of the country.
Earlier, on February 19, 2013, five road construction workers at Dampa Tiger Reserve had been abducted by armed miscreants, who demanded INR 10 million as ransom for their release. They were, however, released on March 28 and handed over to Mizo leaders in Bangladesh. Mizoram Additional SP, CID-Special Branch, H.L. Thangzuala asserted that the abductors were not militants, but a group of criminals belonging to the Bru (Reang) community. However, the gang had a nexus with a Tripura-based NLFT ‘area commander’. Chief Minister Lalthanhawla, while announcing the release of the five hostages, claimed that no ransom was paid.
In 2012 as well, the NLFT had abducted 12 persons; six on November 25, including three Tripura residents, two timber merchants and one driver, from Rajibnagar village, in Mamit District; and another six on March 26, all executives of the Assam-based Anupam Bricks and Concrete Industries (ABCI), including residents of Assam, Punjab, and Rajasthan from Lunglei District.
According to a December 5, 2013, report, the ongoing political turmoil in Bangladesh has become a major source of concern for the Tripura Government, with reports of groups of NLFT militants trying to sneak into the state from their hideouts in Bangladesh. The Special Branch (Intelligence Wing) of the Tripura Police had received feedback that a large group of armed NLFT militants had been lurking close to the border, opposite the Karbook area of South Tripura.
Besides militant’s activities from neighbouring states, arms smuggling remains an urgent concern in Mizoram.
In the latest incident, during the night of December 2, 2013, Security Forces (SFs), seized a large cache of arms and ammunition, including foreign-made weapons, from a truck in Serchhip District. The seized material included ten modified assault rifles along with 20 loaded magazines, four Chinese rifles with eight loaded magazines, one light machine gun (LMG), 39 live grenades, one foreign-made pistol, one telescope used for rifles, a pistol silencer and 535 live cartridges. Police arrested Thangdeihtung, the driver of the truck, and another person, identified as Liankhanmang.
Again, on September 17, 2013, SFs arrested two arms smugglers, identified as Lilriluanga, an Indian national, and Vannunchima, a Bangladeshi, along the Mizoram–Bangladesh border. SFs recovered one American-made revolver and six rounds of 9 mm ammunition, along with a few Indian and Bangladeshi currency notes and two mobile phones with five SIM cards. Both the smugglers were trying to cross over the international border from the Indian side into Bangladesh.
Mizoram Police also seized three Chinese-made grenades and ammunition from a farmhouse near Aizawl on April 30, 2013. The farmhouse belongs to one Rohmingliana, who was arrested.
However, the biggest arms haul in Mizoram thus far, and one of the biggest in the Northeast in recent years, was on March 7 and 8, 2013, at a farmhouse near the Lengpui Airport, on the outskirts of State capital, Aizawl. Mizoram Police had disclosed that sophisticated arms seized were smuggled from Myanmar and were to be delivered to the Parbotia Chatagram Jana Sangata Samiti (PCJSS) – a forum claiming to fight for the rights of the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) tribes of Bangladesh. Later, an official source stated that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had registered a case at its Guwahati Branch on June 7, following an official notification issued by the Union Home Ministry directing it to conduct a detailed probe into the March 7 arms haul: “The Centre has handed over the investigation to the NIA because two foreign countries are involved and moreover, the probe agency will also investigate whether any militant group of the Northeast is helping the Samiti to foment trouble in Bangladesh.” The source indicated that another reason why the seizure had worried the Home Ministry was that Mizoram, showcased as an island of peace in the troubled Northeast, was increasingly being used by rebels from other States as a corridor to smuggle arms and also to cross over to neighbouring countries in order to seek refuge or training. Increased vigil along the India-Myanmar border in Manipur was reportedly another reason why Mizoram had emerged as the preferred route.
Significantly, according to an April 29, 2013, report, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) has set a 2014 deadline to complete the fencing along the India-Bangladesh border. This was revealed in a report tabled in Parliament by a parliamentary panel attached to UMHA. The report stated that Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh had given the panel an assurance in this regard in the last week of March 2013. The report further asserted that the Home Secretary had admitted that illegal influx, trans-border smuggling and movement of insurgents were major security threats to the country that needed to be curbed by plugging gaps in the border fence. On June 12, 2013, during a meeting with Mizoram Chief Minister, BSF officials said that at least 27 camps of different insurgent groups were still located in Bangladesh near the Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mamit District of Mizoram. The presence of the rebel camps in Bangladesh near the border areas necessitated the construction of border fences and also the establishment of border police outposts, the BSF officials stated.
In the meantime, the stalled talks between the Mizoram Government and the Hmar insurgent outfit – Hmar Peoples Convention-Democracy (HPC-D) - which resumed in State capital Aizawl on August 14, 2013, ended in a deadlock. The talks were in continuation of the July 18 talks between the two parties. The issue of Suspension of Operation (SoO), which had been discussed during the July talks, was again raised by the Government, but the SoO Agreement could not be extended due to differences between the Government and the HPC-D. The Government wanted the SoO to be extended for six months while HPC-D insisted on a two month extension. HPC-D and the Government of Mizoram had signed an SoO Agreement at Aizawl, on January 31, 2013, for a period of six months, after several months of tense negotiations. Earlier, HPC-D had entered into an SoO agreement on November 11, 2010, for six months, but this was not extended after its expiry on May 11, 2011, on the grounds that HPC-D was violating SoO ground rules.
Significantly, on September 13, 2013, a procession was taken out at Suangpuilawn village at the Mizoram-Manipur border, pressing for the signing of a peace agreement between the Mizoram Government and HPC-D. Resolutions adopted after the procession expressed the desire that the State Government and the HPC-D would sign an agreement to bring a permanent solution to the Hmar problems. The resolution stated, "Though the people are against balkanisation of Mizoram, we demand implementation of the Mizoram government - HPC agreement signed in 1994 which stipulated that all the areas not under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution should be included by creation of autonomous district councils."
Another issue plaguing Mizoram is the unfinished repatriation of Bru refugees from Tripura, who fled the State after a major ethnic clash in 1997. In the fifth phase of repatriation (September 30-October 6, 2013), about 100 families from relief camps in the Kanchanpur Subdivision of North Tripura District returned to Mizoram. 891 Bru families had earlier been repatriated to Mizoram in four phases between May 2010 and May 2012, out of an estimated 35,000 Bru refugees in Tripura. Significantly, a poll turnout of at least 70 per cent was reported from the six Bru relief camps in North Tripura District during the three-day polling for the just held 40-member Mizoram Assembly elections, according to State Joint Chief Electoral Officer H. Lalengmawia. Polling began on November 19 and concluded on November 21, 2013, in the relief camps of Naisingpara, Asapara, Hazacherra, Khakchangpara, Kaskau and Hamsapara, for the 11,612-strong Bru electorate. The Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath, during his visit to Mizoram in November, just days before the election, had clarified that the Bru voters were allowed to exercise franchise following a High Court order in 1999 that stipulates internally displaced persons should also be able to vote.
Congress leader Lal Thanhawla during his swearing-in ceremony as the Chief Minister of Mizoram for the second consecutive term [winning 34 out of the 40 Assembly seats] on December 14, 2013, declared that the future of Brus lodged in six relief camps in Tripura would be taken up by his Government, adding that the new Government would try its best to end the problem and work for their return to Mizoram. He, however, stated that the Government would make efforts to delete the names of those who refused to be repatriated.
On June 15, 2013, the Mizoram Government justifiably demanded Security-Related Expenditure (SRE) support for the State. In a meeting with UMHA officer-on-special duty (OSD) to the State, Anil Goswami, the State Chief Secretary L. Tochhong stated that the MHA had excluded Mizoram from the SRE scheme on the grounds that it was a peaceful State. However, as Mizoram shares long porous borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh, as well as with insurgency-hit States of India's Northeast, it was very much in need of the fund like any other State in the region, if not more so. “The non-receipt of SRE has hampered security measures in Mizoram,” the chief secretary told Goswami. Goswami responded with an assurance that all steps would be taken to include Mizoram in the list of SRE recipients. The crucial matters discussed in the meeting with the OSD Home included the fund requirement for the 4th & 5th Indian Reserve (IB) Battalion, strengthening of the Police, Bru repatriation and the ongoing construction of the border fence.
On June 5, 2013, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, while addressing the Conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security at New Delhi, argued that various militant groups from neighbouring States in the Northeast as well as countries such as Myanmar and Bangladesh had taken advantage of the porous and inhospitable terrain along Mizoram's interstate and international borders. At a similar conference in New Delhi on April 16, 2012, the Chief Minister reiterated that his State remained prone to a host of illegal activities, including smuggling of weapons, narcotics and Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN). These activities remain a concern, adding to the unresolved tensions in Mizoram, despite an uninterrupted peace since 1986.