On October 1, 2012, 12 Assam Regiment and the Arunachal Pradesh State Police, in a joint operation, arrested seven cadres of the 'newly formed' United People's Democratic Front (UPDF), including its 'commander-in-chief' Sumona Munglang, from Mimi village near Namsai in Lohit District, a sensitive area bordering Myanmar and China.
The joint operation to 'eliminate' the outfit had started two months ago. Arms, ammunition and cash worth INR 186,600, was also recovered. With these arrests, Security Forces (SFs) claimed, UPDF had been 'wiped out' in the State.
However, after his arrest, Munglang disclosed that 10 members of his outfit were still at large.
Nevertheless, the UPDF has come under tremendous pressure, with 'all' of its leaders either arrested or having surrendered. These include:
September 10, 2012: SFs arrested three UPDF cadres in Lohit District during separate operations. Nakkya Chakma, 'second-in-command' of the UPDF, was arrested in an encounter at Emphum Village under the Chongkham Circle of the District. SFs arrested two UPDF militants at Bamchuk Village under Namsai circle in Lohit District and Joypur Village under Diyun circle in Changlang District, respectively.
September 8: A joint team of the Lohit District Police and Special Investigation Team (SIT), Itanagar, arrested the ´finance secretary´ and third in line of leadership of UPDF, Hemchandra Barphukan aka R. Gohain (42), from the Chowkham area of Namsai Sub-division in Lohit District. Gohain was wanted in several cases of extortion and under the Arms Act, registered in Lohit and Changlang Districts.
August 24: Four linkmen of the UPDF, identified as Anil Chakma, Chowpinto Thaman, Sanjiv Singh and Arvind Singh were arrested in connection with extorting money from businessmen at Bijoypur in Itanagar.
April 28: Assam Rifles personnel arrested four UPDF cadres (aged between 19 and 25 years) from Manabhum area in Changlang District. The militants were arrested from Maitri Village under Diyun Police Station, where they had forcibly taken shelter in the house of a Chakma widow. The cadres visited the village to serve extortion note to local businessmen in the area.
In another setback on September 6, 2012, three top UPDF cadres, Jan Panyok, Halinda Manglai and Sanjiv Munglang, the close aides of the outfit's chief, surrendered before the Deputy Commissioner, Commanding Officer of 12 Assam Regiment and Superintendent of Police, Lohit District.
UPDF has been repeatedly involved in extortion of huge sums of money in Lohit and Changlang Districts, as well as in cases of firing, abduction and intimidation, over the past year. The latest reported incident was on September 12, 2012, when the manager of Sati Tea Estate in Lohit District, C.N. Pandey, was abducted from his residence at Piyom under the Namsai Subdivision by UPDF cadres. He was, however, rescued by the Arunachal Pradesh Police on September 15.
Earlier, on April 12, 2012, UPDF had threatened those involved in the illegal coal, timber and stone trade in Lohit and Changlang Districts. Police said the threats were meant to extort money from traders.
Arunachal Pradesh, a vast and sparsely populated region covering 83,743 square kilometers with just 1.38 million people, has long been an island of relative peace in India's troubled Northeast. For some years, an 'overflow' of violence from neighboring states had come to some areas in the State, but 'indigenous' insurgencies have also been provoked by some external players. The Arunachal Dragon Force (ADF) thus came into existence in 2001, but was neutralized shortly thereafter. The UPDF was formed some time in 2011 by its ´commander-in-chief´ Sumona Munglang, who was once a sharpshooter in the Dawood Ibrahim gang, which was involved in the Mumbai bombings of 1993 - the country's single worst terrorist attack - and which continues to dominate organized crime in Mumbai from its permanent headquarters in Karachi, Pakistan. Munlang is a resident of the Tonkonala area under the Namsai Police Station in Lohit District. According to the Police, UPDF operates mainly in Sunpura, Chowkham, Wakro, Namsai, Mahadevpur and Piyong circles in Lohit District; and in Diyun, Bordumsa and Vijaynagar circles of Changlang District. Cadres receive preliminary arms and guerilla warfare training in the Manabhum Reserve Forest spread between the two Districts. A few cadres have also been sent to Myanmar for advanced arms training. Police sources indicated that Munlang started the group with about 12 cadres, but increased its strength of about 70 members, at peak. The group is believed to have strong linkages with the Anti-Talks Faction of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-ATF) and with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K).
UPDF's formation and objectives remain ambiguous. According to some reports, Munlang simply renamed the Tai-Khamti Liberation Front (TKLF), a little known militant group, while others suggest that TKLF joined the UPDF after its formation. Munlang was part of the ADF, and was arrested in 2002 by the Arunachal Pradesh Police. He managed to escape and later went to Mumbai, where he joined Dawood's gang. He returned to Arunachal Pradesh and started the UPDF. Munglang is said to have disappeared after killing a comrade in the ADF, identified as Chow Nomee Namchoom.
Some reports suggest that that the UPDF's objective is to secure an Autonomous District Council (ADC) under the sixth schedule of the Constitution in nine Circles of the Lohit and Changlang Districts dominated by the Tai-Khamti tribe; others indicate that the group seeks the creation of a separate 'Manabhum District' comprising these nine administrative circles.
Though the UPDF has now suffered a tremendous setback, concerns remains, the most significant being the group's links with the Assam-based ULFA-ATF. Sources suggest that there is definite information of the sharing of funds between ULFA-ATF and UPDF. Rocket Shyam aka Gojen Khek, originally from Arunachal Pradesh, a key member of the ULFA-ATF, was reportedly instrumental in maintaining links between ULFA-ATF and UPDF.
Reports in September 2012 indicate increased activity of ULFA-ATF militants from camps located in the Manabhum and Kharsang areas of Changlang District, creating major concerns among the SFs. The reports adds that ULFA-ATF had recently set up several camps in the two areas bordering Tinsukia (Assam), with help from an NSCN-K unit under the command of Rohendra Moran, a former office-bearer of the All Assam Moran Student's Union (AAMSU). The NSCN-K was providing logistical support to ULFA cadres, with help from local Naga villagers.
ULFA-ATF is currently being actively supported by China. The Centre has articulated its concerns over ULFA-ATF's leader Paresh Baruah being "handled" by China. A top security source associated with northeast affairs thus stated, "Paresh Baruah is more than just a frequent visitor to China. He is being handled by China and it is understood that he gets shelter in the country." Paresh Baruah, who was once sheltering in Bangladesh, is now believed to be somewhere in China or on the Myanmar-China border. Paresh Baruah is also known to be procuring weapons from China, a major portion of which have been sold to the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist).
Interestingly, on September 22, 2012, ULFA-ATF warned the Yuva Morcha (Youth Wing) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against protesting against China on the 50th anniversary of the Sino-Indian War of 1962 in October at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, claiming that such demonstrations could 'increase tension' between Assam and China. The BJP youth wing is slated to hold a rally in mid-October to pay tribute to the martyrs of the Sino-Indian War in the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh and China. In the statement, ULFA-ATF declared that Assam faces no danger from China as long as it doesn´t do anything to instigate tension between the two countries.
Earlier, on March 31, 2012, ULFA-ATF had denounced anti-China protests by Tibetan refugees in Assam, and called upon the people of Assam not to allow such anti-China activities as ULFA needed a powerful friend like China to lead the people's struggle to a 'just conclusion'. Tibetans observed the 53rd Tibetan National Uprising Day in Guwahati on March 10, commemorating their first massive rebellion against the Chinese occupation in 1959. Paresh Barua further stated, "India is treating Assam ruthlessly, we should build bridge with China for our own safety and prosperity." Justifying its Chinese alliance, ULFA declared, "We are fully aware that to bring our struggle to its just conclusion.... it is natural we should seek friends in international arena. We found a friend in Bhutanese establishment and subsequently with Bangladesh too." ULFA was ejected from Bhutan in 2003, and from Bangladesh in 2009.
Baruah has also 'openly opposed' India building missile bases in Assam, arguing that this could anger the Chinese and thus impact adversely on the Assamese people.
These concerns are compounded further by the increasing activities of the CPI-Maoist in the wider northeast region, and specifically in Arunachal Pradesh as well.
The SFs have uncovered vital information regarding the CPI-Maoist's plans to set up guerrilla zones in the hills in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in order to strengthen their 'arms wing' in the region. SFs operating in this area have been alerted. Significantly, on July 19, 2012, security agencies discovered the 'blueprint' of the Maoist action plan for the Northeastern region. According to their road map, the Maoists have plans to form a 'strategic zone' comprising the hilly terrain of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao Districts of Assam and the Dibang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh.
Sources also indicate that the Maoists have already recruited some youth from Assam and a few Khamti boys from Arunachal Pradesh.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) also found, during the interrogation of Indranil Chanda aka Raj, a key Maoist leader in charge of the North East (arrested from Kolkata on April 21, 2012), that he had been moving across several parts of the North East, setting up 'base camps'.
Significantly, on July 25, 2012, SFs arrested three Maoists from Kaupatani village under Mahadevpur Police Station, Lekang Circle, in Lohit District. Earlier, on August 17, 2011, a joint Police team from Arunachal Pradesh and Assam had arrested five cadres of the CPI-Maoist from the Mahadevpur area under the Namsai Circle of Lohit District. These were the first Maoist arrests in Namsai, which is located close to the dense Manabhum Reserve Forest. These arrests had prompted the then Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram to describe Assam as a new theatre of Maoist activities, with a spill over into Arunachal and Manipur. Underground elements have been using the dense Manabhum forest as a passage to camps in Myanmar, across the porous Indo-Myanmar border.
On March 29, 2012, the Assam and Arunachal Pradesh State Police constituted a joint team to carry out anti-insurgency operations along the interstate border in the Tinsukia District of Assam and three Districts of Arunachal Pradesh - Lohit, Changlang and the Lower Dibang Valley. ULFA-ATF and CPI-Maoist are reportedly present in these areas.
Arunachal Pradesh had witnessed the overflow of the NSCN - NSCN-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and NSCN-K factions - and ULFA activities in the past. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there were at least 10 clashes between the two NSCN factions in Arunachal Pradesh during the period 2001-2012, resulting in 48 killings and leaving at least 17 injured. In 2012, the State recorded two killings in a factional clash between the NSCN groups, on January 8, 2012, when NSCN-K militants attacked an NSCN-IM camp in the Chasha village in Tirap District. The State has also seen the formation of another Naga outfit, the Arunachal Naga Liberation Front (ANLF), formed in May 2010. The ANLF, however, was formally merged with NSCN-K on June 19, 2011.
Union Home Ministry investigations have also uncovered the involvement of extremist formations in illegal mining in Arunachal Pradesh. The report, prepared after a visit of senior Home Ministry officials to the 45-kilometre coal-rich stretch of Changlang District, noted that insurgent groups such as the NSCN were engaged in illegal mining at Namchik Namphuk, the only coal block allotted to the State Government. An October 6, 2012, report notes that insurgent groups in the District had been illegally mining coal, using the proceeds to buy sophisticated weapons from arms dealers based in Thailand and China.
According to SATP data, insurgency related fatalities in the State during the period 2007-2012 totaled 76 (data till October 7, 2012), including of 2 civilians, 3 SF personnel and 71 militants. The maximum number of killings occurred in 2007 and 2011. ULFA was involved in all the incidents of 2007, in which 16 militants, two civilians and three SF personnel were killed. The 2011 incidents involved fratricidal strife between NSCN-K and NSCN-IM. In just one incident, on the night of February 24-25, 30 NSCN-IM and five NSCN-K cadres were killed in a factional clash. Another two incidents involved ULFA-ATF, in which six of its cadres were killed in an encounter with SFs. In the most recent incident, on September 14, 2012, one ULFA-ATF militant was killed and another injured in an encounter with the Army at Insushi village, Nangtao, under the Namsai Circle in Lohit District.
Despite dramatic gains by the SFs, a multiplicity of threats persist in Arunachal Pradesh, long a haven of peace in this troubled region. The remnants of the UPDF, backed by ULFA-ATF and NSCN-K, as well as the increased activities of the Maoist in the State, have kept militancy alive across Tirap, Changlang and Lohit, even as these groups explore possibilities of expansion into other areas of the State. Unless these 'loose end' are tied off by determined counter-insurgency operations, Arunachal Pradesh may well see increasing troubles over the coming years.
(The writer Veronica Khangchian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)