Last Updated: June 01, 2023, 14:57 IST
Home Minister Amit Shah, while coming down heavily on Kuki militant groups, has said any violation of the Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement will be dealt with sternly and the pact must be followed for peace to return.
Addressing the media after his three-day whirlwind tour of strife-torn Manipur, Shah said: “Suspension of Operation Agreement has some conditions. If they are broken then SoO can’t be followed. It has to be enforced by both sides.”
The comment was necessitated after the state government and intelligence agencies suspected that arms and ammunitions looted from armouries over the last few days could have been handed over to Kuki militants who are using it to fuel the violence further.
Shah’s comments can also be seen as tacit support for embattled chief minister N Biren Singh who had unilaterally walked out of the tripartite agreement in March this year. His decision was blamed for adding to the tension between Imphal and hill districts.
Suspension of Operation Agreement
The Suspension of Operation Agreement was a tripartite ceasefire agreement between Kuki militant groups, the Union government and Manipur government signed on August 22, 2008. The primary objective of the pact was to initiate political dialogue and bring back militants to the mainstream.
As per the agreement, 25 of the 30 Kuki groups would abide by the condition of not picking up arms. Government officials said more groups joined later and the number currently stands at 27.
Terms of SoO Agreement
Of a total of 30 militant groups, 25 are party to the pact — 17 under Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and eight under the United People’s Front (UPF).
KNO and UPF constituents, under the agreement, were to give up their arms and abide by the Constitution of India. They were prohibited from carrying any arms except to protect their leadership and their camps. Designated camps were set up for the cadre to stay and double-lock safe rooms were set up to store the arms and ammunition that the erstwhile militants carried.
The groups were to not take any steps that would violate the laws and territorial integrity of Manipur. In addition, all extortion activities were to be halted.
In return, the state and central government assured that no operations would be carried out against these groups by security forces. A monthly stipend of Rs 5,000 would be paid to the cadre and financial allocation would be done to maintain the camps.
What went wrong?
The SoO agreement was to be reviewed and extended periodically. However, in March this year, the Manipur government withdrew from the agreement, alleging that Kuki National Army (KNA) and Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) were “influencing agitation among forest encroachers”. The state government had undertaken a massive drive in the hill districts against ‘encroachers’ and poppy cultivators. Kukis had opposed the drive, arguing that they were tribals who had dwelled on these lands for generations.
The two issues culminated into violent protests after the high court asked the state to look into the ST status of Meiteis.
The Imphal Police accused Kuki Independent Army cadre of looting 25 sophisticated weapons from an SoO designated camp in Churachandpur in April. A day before Shah’s visit to Imphal, army recovered Insas rifle, grenade, detonator and ammunition from a truck.
“The main point of SoO was that militants stay inside designated camps and keep their arms and ammunitions away. That is not being followed,” an official dealing with Manipur told News18. As per local officials, close to 1,500 arms and several rounds of ammunition have been looted.