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After 14 years, Army to take on Naga militant groups

March 17, 2011 11:50 IST
Nearly 14 years after the Indian government entered into a ceasefire agreement with two factions of Naga militant group, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, the Army and Assam Rifles are all set to launch a fresh counter-insurgency operation in the Tirap and Changlang districts of eastern Arunachal Pradesh.

The Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the operation on Tuesday after hearing the differing viewpoints presented by the home and defence ministries on the necessity of such an operation against the Issac-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the NSCN.

The CCS has backed the home ministry view that the Army needs to intervene and clear the two districts of armed militants from both the rival factions.

The CCS's intervention comes against the backdrop of differences between the defence and the home ministries on the need for such an operation in the two districts bordering Myanmar.

The defence ministry, especially the Army, has consistently held that the factional fight between the two groups for control of the area is more a law and order issue than an insurgency problem.

Moreover, the Army's Eastern Command held the view that both the groups are no longer banned outfits and therefore they should be dealt with by the state police and at best by the central police organisations like the Indo Tibetan Border Police and the Central Reserve Police Force.

The home ministry, however, pointed out that the two groups have large-scale presence of heavily armed cadres in the two districts and have indulged in bloody clashes over the past three months, leading to deaths of at least 40-odd

militants from both sides. Besides, the two remote districts of Arunachal Pradesh have very little police or paramilitary presence that can deter the two militant groups.

After taking the two points of view into consideration, the CCS, sources said, has prevailed over the defence ministry to prompt the Army to launch a fresh operation against the NSCN factions. One of the two divisions of the Army based in Eastern Assam close to the Tirap-Changlang districts is likely to be entrusted with the operation, top Army sources said. The Assam Rifles, India's oldest paramilitary force, officered by Indian Army officers, also has a brigade stationed in the area in case the Army does not want to spare its frontline brigades.

However, Army sources say any operation launched in the next four-five days may not be very effective for more than a month since early monsoon rains will hamper movement from mid-April onwards in the heavily forested and mountainous region.

The latest development has also raised some basic questions about the Centre's handling of the entire Naga question. For 14 years, New Delhi has treated the Naga factions with kid gloves, often turning a blind eye to many transgressions done by the two factions. For instance, many of its armed cadres continue to roam freely out of what is supposed to be designated camps for the militants. Large-scale extortion by these cadres has been a major issue in the north-eastern states but the home ministry, and particularly successive interlocutors appointed by the Centre, has often ignored the ground realities. This apathy and deliberate neglect has now resulted in the situation going out of control in Arunachal Pradesh.

RS Chauhan in New Delhi