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'Oil is another reason for clashes in Manipur'

Last updated on: August 28, 2023 13:00 IST

'The Kuki-Zo are aware of this rich resource in their areas and feel the Meitei push for ST status is because of this reason.'

IMAGE: Security personnel conduct Joint Combing Operations in sensitive areas in both the Hills and Valley sectors of Manipur. Photograph: ANI Photo

"The southern part of Manipur is believed to be sitting on a bowl of oil estimated at being almost five trillion cubic feet in size," states Lieutenant General Shakti Gurung (retired), former commander 4 Corps responsible for the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh and military secretary, Army HQ.

"This is said to be covering the hill districts of Churachandpur, Tamenglong and Jiribam all of which are inhabited by the Kuki-Zo people," he tells's Archana Masih in part 2 of the interview.

General Gurung was commissioned into the Grenadiers regiment and served nearly four decades in the Indian Army. He also served as defence attache to Myanmar.

As a former corps commander in the North east, what were some of your learnings from this region and its people?
How did you ensure peace between the various tribes, and maintain the security of this region?

As the corps commander I was responsible for the Kameng sector of Arunachal Pradesh. Besides Walong in the Lohit Valley, Kameng is the most sensitive in the area because of the Tawang monastery (also known as Urgelling Monastery) where the Sixth Dalai Lama was born.

Tawang and Yangtse are crucial to Tibetan Buddhism.

Tawang is inhabited by the Monpa tribe and China expects the next Dalai Lama to be chosen from this tribe. This is the reason why Tawang holds more significance to the Chinese for they do not want this to happen.

Yangste has been in the news lately due to the clash that happened there. This happened during my time and will continue to happen every year.

I say this because it has become an integral part of China's op rehearsal programme each year to keep prodding the issue to indicate that it has not been settled. Yangste is one of the few disputed areas under Indian control.

As the corps commander I was also responsible for counter-insurgency operations in Lower Assam and the Karbi Anglong jungles. The ULFA (the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom) was almost drained out with the surrender of all its top leaders except Paresh Barua who continues to hide either in Myanmar or Yunnan even to this day.

That left only the NDFB (National Democratic Front of Bodoland) [Ranjan Daimary] faction still active besides the KPLT () in the Karbi jungles and an occasional group of the GNLA (Garo National Liberation Army) from the Garo Hills of Meghalaya.

IMAGE: The police fired several rounds of tear gas shells to disperse a crowd gathered near the Bharatiya Janata Party's regional office in Imphal. Photograph: ANI Photo

Is the discovery of oil a factor in the trouble and violence in Manipur?

Discovery of oil is another reason attributed to the ongoing clashes in Manipur. The southern part of the state is believed to be sitting on a bowl of oil estimated at being almost five trillion cubic feet in size.

This is said to be covering the hill districts of Churachandpur, Tamenglong and Jiribam all of which are inhabited by the Kuki-Zo people.

The responsibility for oil exploration was given to Jubilant Energy, a Netherlands-based company while government firms like the ONGC which is drilling in Upper Assam were ignored.

It is reported that 30 oil well locations are said to have been identified and many more could still to be located. However, the deal has been questioned by environment experts who feel that it would disturb the rich soil conditions that exist in these areas besides harming the flora and fauna.

The Kuki-Zo are aware of this rich resource available in their areas and feel that the Meitei push for ST (Scheduled Tribe) status is because of this reason.

Being granted ST status would allow the Meiteis access to these tribal areas and with governance being dominated by them anything would be possible thereafter.

What have been the foremost memories of your tenure in Myanmar?

There are many. I have made friends for life. The Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) would often tell me, 'Colonel, only a military man will understand another military man.'

I have always believed that a country should be allowed to write its own history and Myanmar is no exception.

For India, Myanmar is an extremely important neighbour. It's the gateway for fructification of our Act East Policy.

If we have announced our 'Neighbourhood First' policy we must learn to follow it in letter and spirit. It is therefore important that we maintain good and cordial relations with whichever party is in power in that country.

That I think is the true essence of astute diplomacy.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/