TODAY -

Growing demand for abrogating SoO pact
- The People's Chronicle Editorial :: February 24, 2024 -



WITH just a few days away from its expiry, there has been growing demand among the people, especially in the valley, for abrogation of the Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement signed with various armed Kuki-Chin militant groups, whose cadres are allegedly taking part openly in the current violent ethnic conflict between the Meiteis/Meetei and Kuki-Chin people in violation of the agreed ground rules.

Starting off as a "Cessation of Operation" agreement signed between the Assam Rifles and a group of armed Zomi and Kuki organisations in August 2005; the current tripartite agreement involving as many as 25 armed Kuki-Chin groups, which are grouped under the two umbrella bodies, namely, United People's Front (UPF) and Kuki National Organisation (KNO); the government of India and the state of Manipur, was formally inked on August 22, 2008 with the stated objective of quelling violence and create opportunities for the insurgents to engage in peaceful dialogue with the government to resolve issues in the hill areas of Manipur.

Along with formation of a Joint Monitoring Croup (JMG) with representatives from each signatory to oversee the efficient implementation of the agreement and laying down a set of ground rules to be followed by these armed groups and cadres, the tripartite agreement has been extended periodically, either for a period of six months or a year 'based on mutual understanding of all the parties involved."

The last extension of the SoO agreement for "12 more months" with effect from March 1, 2023 till February 29, 2024 was done during a joint meeting held on February 17, 2023 with D Seilien Haokip appending his signature on behalf of KNO with Ketheos Zomi and Joshua Thadou doing the same on behalf of UPF.

From across the table, Resident Commissioner Devesh Deval signed the SoO pact extension on behalf of government of Manipur while Piyush Goyal, Additional Secretary in-charge of North East, Ministry of Home Affairs did the honours on behalf the government of India.

Initially hailed as a "significant breakthrough" in the quest for peaceful resolution of conflicts in the region, the SoO agreement soon became a cause, for concern for the common men and women in the state with armed cadres of Kuki-Chin militant groups, who are supposed to stay put in their designated camps and their weapons kept under a double locking system, seen moving around freely collecting 'taxes' from goods-laden trucks on the highways and intimidating anyone who had the gut to question their illegal activities including drug trafficking, poppy cultivation, gun-running and extortion.

It is because of such illegal activities carried out by the Kuki-Chin militant groups with virtual impunity guaranteed under the SoO pact, not to speak of the doubtful nationality of the leaders of some of the armed groups, that the government of Manipur had on March 10, 2023 announced its cabinet's decision of withdrawal from the SoO agreement with two groups, namely, Kuki National Army (KNA) and Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), which are leading the KNO and UPF conglomerates and said to have the highest numbers of cadres among the conglomerates.

Even though the state cabinet's decision had come close on the heels of protest rallies taken out in Churachandpur, Tengnoupal and Kangpokpi districts against the drive to evict illegal encroachers from the reserved forest area, which the government claimed to have been influenced by ZRA and KNA, the issue of foreign-origin of the two armed groups' leaders was very much at the core of arriving at this decision.

Although the Government of India is yet to take a call on the decision taken by the government of Manipur regarding withdrawal from the SoO agreement with KNA and ZRA, one can rest assured that New Delhi is now under tremendous pressure from various quarters for reviewing the SoO pact, if not abrogate it completely.

As we have said elsewhere, SoO was initiated to put an end to a problem and not to create more problems, and New Delhi knows this more than ever.

Will New Delhi make the final call this time?

That's the question everyone on both sides of the clash divide in Manipur would like to know the answer of at the moment.



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