TODAY -

To extend or not to extend the SoO pact
- The People's Chronicle Editorial :: March 04, 2024 -



IN what appears to be an afterthought, Committee on Tribal Unity (CoTU) has come up with the decision to impose 24-hour total shutdown in Kangpokpi district from 10 am on March 4 in protest against what it considered "the complete Constitutional breakdown of law in the valley" and the recent "communalised" resolution of the Manipur Legislative Assembly to urge the Centre for abrogation of the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement signed with as many as 25 armed Kuki-Chin groups, which are grouped under two umbrella bodies, namely, United People's Front (UPF) and Kuki National Organisation (KNO).

Being one of the organisations which has been at the forefront of advancing the cause of a separate administration for the Kuki-Chin people in Manipur since outbreak of the ethnic conflict on May 3 last year, the Kangpokpi district-based Kuki-Chin body had always been the first one before anyone else to issue press statement or announce decision to launch agitation against any acts of the "Meetei-centric government".

But this time, the announcement of CoTU to impose a total shutdown has come late by two days as the 10 elected representatives from the Kuki-Chin community in the state assembly, who first raised the demand for a separate administration for Kuki-Chin people within days of outbreak of the ethnic conflict, had already issued a joint statement without wasting any time on February 29 itself, the day on which the resolution was adopted, condemning what they described as the "one-sided resolution" of "attributing responsibility to the SoO groups for the ongoing ethnic conflict in Manipur".

While asserting that the resolution was adopted "to defame the KNO and UPF and further alienate the Kuki-Zo-Hmar community as part of the continuing hate campaign," the joint statement of the 10 legislators fervently appealed to the Union Home Ministry "to consider all aspects of the issue in a fair and just manner to check further discrimination and alienation of the Kuki-Zomi-Hmar people".

It may need no elucidation on the afterthought of CoTU to the appeal made by the Kuki-Chin legislators to the Union Home Ministry if one looks at the unfolding events, days before and after the Assembly resolution of abrogating the SoO pact, all indicating subtly to which direction the multi-layered issues entwining the ongoing ethnic conflict are heading to.

Even if the guns of the Kuki militants fired frequently from atop the surrounding hills towards the valley had remained quiet for some time now, no decision yet has been taken regarding the extension of SoO pact, which officially lapsed on February 29.

Of course, this does not mean the abrogation of the tripartite agreement involving government of Manipur, Union government and Kuki armed groups.

There had been instances in the past in which the agreement was extended days after its expiry as in the case of 2022 when the extension of SoO pact could not be finalised in time despite expiry on February 28 due to conduct of election in five states including Manipur at that time.

So, it would be presumptuous to say anything about the SoO pact extension or abrogation at the moment.

Amidst this, the revelation made in the Audit Report 2022 of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) that the government had paid Rs 27.38 crore to the Kuki militant groups bound by SoO pact outside the guidelines is something far more serious than the allegation of violating the agreed ground rules.

The audit report, which was tabled in the Manipur Legislative Assembly on Friday, a day after the resolution was adopted for urging the centre to abrogate SoO pact, could very well work as a gamechanger in arriving at a final decision on whether the pact should be extended or not.

Having said that, one thing everyone could be sure of is - the need for reviewing the tripartite agreement as violation of the laid down guidelines or ground rules by the involved parties is out there for all to see.



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