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Mizoram: Hidden Dangers
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By South Asia Intelligence Review/IBNS

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On March 7 and 8, 2013, in a major arms haul - the biggest haul in Mizoram thus far and one of the biggest in the Northeast in recent years - the Mizoram Police and Assam Rifles seized 31 AK-47 assault rifles, one Singapore-made Light Machine Gun (LMG), one US-made Browning automatic rifle, 809 rounds of ammunition, and 32 magazines, from a farmhouse near the Lengpui Airport, on the outskirts of State capital, Aizawl.

On March 7, Police seized 23 AK-47 rifles, one LMG and one Browning rifle and also arrested three Bangladeshi Chakma tribals in connection with the seizure. Mizoram Police's Superintendant of Police (SP), Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Crime branch, Joseph Lalchhuana, disclosed that the Police further acted on information derived from the interrogation of the three Bangladeshi Chakma tribals and on March 8 recovered eight AK-47 assault rifles and 809 rounds of ammunition at a location near the spot of the first seizure. According to police, cases under the Arms Act, Foreigners Act and the Indian Passport Act were registered against the arrestees at Sairang Police Station, where the arms were seized. The arrestees were identified as Robi Chakma, Soboz Chakma and Moni Tripura.

Three days later, on March 12, 2013, the Mizoram Police disclosed that it had proof that the sophisticated arms seized 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. Police added that the three Chakma tribals arrested from the farmhouse belonged to the PCJSS of the erstwhile Shanti Bahini. SP Lalchhuana disclosed, further, that the arms were smuggled from Myanmar and were to be delivered to the PCJSS in Bangladesh. The person who smuggled the arms into India through the porous Mizoram-Myanmar border had reportedly returned to Myanmar and was hiding there. On March 13, Director General Assam Rifles Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh confirmed the Police disclosures. The three arrested persons were remanded to Police custody and were being interrogated by the Police and central intelligence agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had also been informed about the arms seizure.

Officials believe the arms haul would deliver a severe blow to the capacity-building efforts of militant outfits operating in and from the region.

Outside Mizoram, on March 8, 2013, Security Forces (SFs) recovered explosives with the arrest of Gin Zamuan Simte of the Churachandpur District of Manipur. Altogether, 450 detonators, 165 Gelatin sticks, 50 meters of safety fuse and two 12 bore guns were recovered from Simte's possession. Interrogation brought to light the fact that the that explosive materials had been purchased from civilian construction organizations in Mizoram and were being smuggled into Manipur and Myanmar, where they would be distributed among militant groups for use against the SFs.

Despite an uninterrupted peace in Mizoram since 1986, the State is often used as a conduit for illegal activities by criminals and militants alike. At an internal security Conference of Chief Ministers in New Delhi on April 16, 2012, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla observed that his state shared 'porous' international borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh, and remained prone to a host of illegal activities, such as smuggling of weapons, narcotics and Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN). The Chief Minister noted, "Mizoram shares a 722 kilometre-long porous international borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar and free movement regime is allowed along the 404-kilometre Indo-Myanmar border. This 404 kilometre Indo-Myanmar unfenced border is characterised by inhospitable terrain covered with dense canopy. Hence, the Assam Rifles cannot effectively dominate the Indo-Myanmar border. This has direct bearing on the internal security for not only Mizoram but also for the whole north eastern States (sic) as Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) use it as a conduit for arms smuggling and for crossing over to neighbouring countries for seeking refuge or training." He added, further, that the "State also shares 284 kilometres (border) with three adjoining militancy-affected States. It remains prone to smuggling of weapons, narcotic drugs and FICN."

On April 3, 2013, in a written reply to a query in the State Assembly in Aizawl, State Home Minister R. Lalzirliana, said 237 arms and 6,345 rounds of ammunition were seized by the State Police during the present Congress Government's tenure, since 2009. Lalzirliana noted that the majority of the seized arms were made locally and were destroyed in accordance with orders of the Courts. While some arms, especially small arms, were issued to individuals through Court orders, others were retained in Police armouries.

FICN flows through the State were reconfirmed on March 19, 2012, when SFs arrested three FICN racketeers from Thuampui under the Aizawl District Police Station, and recovered FICN worth INR 300,000. The racketeers, all women, were identified as Lalengkimi, Lalbiak Thuami and Ramdinthari, all from Aizawl. Their interrogation subsequently revealed that the Karimganj (Assam) border had become a major conduit for the smuggling of FICN. Racketeers operating on the other side of the border had a chain of contacts and couriers to deliver FICN to pre-arranged destinations.

Abduction for ransom by a variety of militant groupings, including several from neighbouring States, was another problem afflicting Mizoram. Thus, on February 19, 2013, five road construction workers at Dampa Tiger Reserve on the Mizoram-Bangladesh-Tripura border in the Mamit District, were 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 National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) 'area commander'. However, Rhangzuala claimed that the criminals apparently did not obtain permission from the NLFT high command to carry out the abduction on this occasion. Chief Minister Lalthanhawla, while announcing the release of the five hostages, claimed that no ransom was paid.

Earlier, on November 25, 2012, NLFT militants abducted three Tripura residents, two timber merchants and one driver, from Rajibnagar village, in Mizoram's Mamit District, demanding INR 3 million for their release. They were feed on December 12, 2012 following joint action by the Tripura and Mizoram police.

On March 26, 2012, at least six executives of the Assam-based Anupam Bricks and Concrete Industries (ABCI), including residents of Assam, Punjab, and Rajasthan, were abducted by NLFT cadres operating from Bangladesh, from the Lunglei District of Mizoram. The abductees were released on April 30, 2012. Aizawl District SP, Lalbiakthanga Khiangte disclosed that there was no communication from the ABCI on how the hostages were released by the insurgents. Sources indicate that NLFT cadres had demanded INR 10.2 million as ransom for their release.

Residual activities of a range of extremist formations are also evidenced by periodic arrests in the State. On February 14, 2012, for instance, a suspected militant belonging to the Mara People's Army (MPA) was arrested near the Laki hamlet in the southernmost Saiha District of Mizoram. The Police seized one US-made M-16 rifle, 156 rounds of ammunition, two magazines and two walkie-talkies from the arrested person.

On September 22, 2011, BSF troops arrested three National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) militants at the Indramchhera Nallah under the border outpost at Silsuri in Mamit District, while they were trying to cross over from Bangladesh.

On July 12, 2011, SFs arrested 'foreign secretary' Utpal Debbarma (34) of the Biswamohan Debbarma faction of NLFT, from Aizawl.

On March 7, 2011, SFs arrested four cadres of the Kangleipak Communist Party-Sunil faction (KCP-Sunil) from the Bongkawn area of Aizwal. The arrested cadres were actively involved in extortion from businessmen, contractors, the general public and Government officers, over the preceding six months.

Another startling revelation, according to a November 25, 2011, report indicated that Mizoram, the most peaceful State in the Northeast, was allegedly used as a meeting point by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and leaders of the Manipur-based Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The NIA, probing the PLA's activities, discovered that a meeting was held between PLA and Maoist leaders at Champhai in Mizoram on July 15, 2010, besides similar meetings in Calcutta, Guwahati and Rourkela.

Significantly on April 1, 2013, the Mizoram Government passed a resolution to pave the way for setting up a Territorial Army (Home and Hearth) to strengthen security within the State. Participating in the discussion and moving the resolution, State Home Minister R. Lalzirliana reiterated that Mizoram had a long porous border with neighbouring countries - Myanmar and Bangladesh - which was protected by the Assam Rifles and the BSF, adding, "The State has 8 Police Battalions which cannot meet all the requirements, including setting up of Police Outposts, in the border area." The Home Minister further noted that a number of new development projects, including hydro power projects, the construction of a railway line between Bairabi and Sairang, the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project, and the exploration for oil and natural gas in various places in the State, were being undertaken, all of which required a security cover.

Further, Subhash Joshi, Director General, BSF, along with other senior BSF officers, while on a two-day visit of Karimganj and the Mizoram border on April 3-4, while reviewing the security scenario and border management on the Indo-Bangladesh border, stated that 90 per cent of border fencing was complete and the remaining portion would also be completed 'soon'. A March 31, 2013, report added that, with the improvement of relations between India and Bangladesh, the ties between the border guarding forces of the two countries had also improved considerably, and coordinated patrolling by the BSF and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) had started - a major positive in the management of the border.

Mizoram's residual difficulties are compounded by a range of 'indigenous' unresolved tensions, most prominently including the repatriation of Bru refugees from Tripura to Mizoram, and the Hmar Peoples' Convention-Democracy (HPC-D) demand for an Autonomous District Council.

In a significant development, on January 31, 2013, the HPC-D and the Government of Mizoram signed a Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with the HPC-D in Aizawl, for a period of six months, after several months of suspense. After signing the SoO pact, the HPC-D, stated that at least two rounds of talks were to be held with the Government, as mutually agreed upon, during this six-month period, to find a 'permanent solution' to the 'Hmar issue'. However, on March 25, 2013, State Home Minister Lalzirliana warned that ongoing peace negotiations between the Mizoram Government and the HPC-D could not be resumed early due to the February 19 abduction of five Mizos, although steps had been taken to ensure early resumption of talks. The five Mizos were released on March 28, and the Joint Monitoring Group responsible for supervising the implementation of the SoO, is now scheduled to hold a meeting on April 19. The meeting would deliberate on the date and place for resumption of talks between the Mizoram government and the HPC-D and also discuss the observance of the bilateral SoO signed between the two parties in January. The HPC-D had also received a major setback on June 10, 2012, when SFs arrested two top leaders of the group, 'army chief' Lalropuia and 'deputy army chief' Biaknunga, at the Kumbigram Airport located in Silchar, Cachar District, Assam. Again, on July 18, 2012, H. Zosangbera, the 'chairman' of HPC-D, was arrested from Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, by a combined team of the Mizoram and Delhi Police. However, all the three leaders were released on bail and talks were initiated again in 2013.

Further, a February 18, 2013, report claimed that the Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum (MBDPF), led by A. Sawibung, had finally succeeded in bringing the issue of repatriation of Bru refugees to the negotiating table with the Mizoram Government. Bruno Msha, general secretary of the Naisingpara (Tripura) camp-based MBDPF, stated that the MBDPF had received a letter from the State Home Department for talks to be held on February 21, 2013, in Aizawl to deliberate on the impasse on repatriation of Brus, who have been displaced from Mizoram since 1997. The meeting between MBDPF and the Joint Secretary, Home Department of Mizoram, Lalbiakzama, however, could not be held due to all India bandh (shut down strike), by various trade union bodies, on February 20-21, 2013. There are no further reports on the issue. Thus far, only 891 families have been repatriated to Mizoram, in four phases of repatriation between May 2010 and May 2012, out of an estimated 35,000 Bru refugees in Tripura.

The State's proximity with Myanmar and the infamous 'Golden Triangle area' through which narcotics are smuggled makes Mizoram vulnerable to destabilization by a range of factors, including drug trafficking, arms smuggling and militancy, particularly by groups from the troubled neighbouring States and countries. These risks are compounded by long-unresolved 'indigenous' concerns that constitute a latent threat to a peace that has endured since 1986.

(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)
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