COVID-19 lockdown facilitates action against insurgent groups in northeast

Insurgent groups are losing grip on their support base and witnessing desertions

paramilitary-forces-in-Nagaland Representational Image | PTI

The COVID-19 lockdown has opened the door for security forces in the northeast not only to undertake operations against insurgents but also create an enabling environment for people to liaison with government agencies reaching out to them with food supplies, medicines and support.

The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) joining the peace talks earlier this year has also had an impact on other insurgent groups who are losing grip on their support base, witnessing desertions and surrenders and are unable to carry out a spectacular strike to motivate the cadres and sustain fund inflow.

On Friday, two militants of the DNLA (Dimasa National Liberation Army) who were active in Diphu Disa, Karbi Anglong area in Assam were killed in an exchange of fire with security forces. One AK-47 and M-16 were recovered from them. Intelligence sources said the DNLA might be a fringe outfit but its weapon supply and strength has the support of outfits like NSCN (K) and NSCN (IM).

“What is happening is that the surrenders of militants have increased as the insurgent outfits are under pressure since last year due to intense operations by security forces. Due to the lockdown, the police presence has also increased and each village is being visited by the local policemen. Though the insurgents are trying to ambush the security forces and target them, they are being effectively neutralised,” said Satya Raj Hazarika, DIG in Assam Police.

The operation against the DNLA came a day after the joint operation in which five ULFA (I) militants were apprehended by Charaideo district police and Army unit from Sapekhati. Apart from the numerous kidnappings, murders and extortion cases, the apprehended ULFA cadres were involved in the Republic Day bomb blast in Teok Ghat area.

Among the insurgent groups, ULFA is hit the hardest as the arrest of the five hardcore cadres has taken the total number of surrenders from the insurgent outfit to 32 since last year.

In 2019, 27 ULFA cadres had surrendered before security forces among 66 insurgents belonging to various outfits. In March this year, six militants from CorCom (Coordinating Committee), which is an umbrella group of six insurgent outfits in Manipur, surrendered before security forces.

The total number of surrendered militants stands at 87 between last year up to April this year.

These include 32 from ULFA, 14 from KYKL, 9 from Manipur based PREPAK (People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak), 6 from KCP (N), five from NLFT-BM (National Liberation Front of Tripura), four from PREPAK-Pro and two each from PLA (People's Liberation Army) and NSCN(K).

The United Liberation Front of Western Southeast Asia (UNLFW) under ULFA chief Paresh Baruah is feeling the heat being unable to carry out a spectacular strike since 2017. The intensifying of operations by security forces, the success of the government in bringing outfits like the NDFB to the talking table, the carrot-and-stick policy against the NSCN has by far created an atmosphere that is not conducive for the insurgent groups to have a free run.

The fresh arrests of cadres are also a reflection of disenchantment with the leadership of the insurgent groups leading to surrenders and desertions, said an official. There are allegations of insubordination, questioning of camp commanders whose families are leading comfortable lives from extortion money while these special privileges are not available to the general cadres. “It is possible the lockdown situation has further brought disenchantment among the people who have been paying taxes to these groups for decades now,” said a security official.

With the locals now making a beeline for relief extended by the state governments of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, the insurgent groups active in these areas are likely to lose grip further if the civil administration and state police is able to tap into the opportunity.

But what continues to remain a worry for Indian security forces is the fact that some of the groups like the UNLF and PREPAK are learnt to be providing logistical support to Arakan army in Myanmar. These outfits have camps running in Rakhine and Chin states, areas controlled by the AA which is designated as a terrorist group by the Myanmar government. Since these groups are rich in funds collected through extortion and cross border smuggling, intelligence agencies believe that any support lent to the Arakan army, is likely to continue to keep the cross border support to insurgent groups alive in the northeast and act as a roadblock to the security forces in keeping at bay the threat posed by Paresh Baruah’s UNLFW.