From Sajik Tampak to Somtal Salient
- Scintillating Impressions -
- Part 1 -

By:- RS Jassal *

Introduction : Well, I had a great desire to visit areas as said in the subject head since I had never been there as such , though I always claim having seen 75% of entire NE on transport, by air and maximum on foot by virtue of my postings in various appointments while in uniform of 'Sentinels of the North East'.

For sake of those who are not aware of this epithet, it means explicitly 'The Assam Rifles'- a humble, tough though but rewarding service of 30 years & plus. After all what was it so attractive about this area that people other than Manipur came to know so quickly about these two names as big spots in Manipur even louder & bigger than the name of Imphal itself which most of the mainlanders still refer to it as a district of Assam.

Probably it was because areas remained cut off from Manipur Administration for more than 15 years i.e., from the day it was declared as 'Police Sector' used by UG outfits as their play field till control retrieved by the Security Forces gradually followed and still being followed by civil administration since Jan 2007.

It was this area where three distinct forces i.e., BSF, Army & the Assam Rifles had to struggle hard to reclaim the lost glory. It was here that the important UG outfits of the valley under overall leadership i.e., UNLF had declared it as 'Liberated Zone'. It was from here that Churachandpur District was also coerced into their ambit & battle field had extended to Khopum valley and Tuisom sub division of Tamenglong district.

Fights mostly remained limited from UGs to UGs with special memories of days together fire fights between UKLF & UNLF during 2003, and all police posts in between closed & withdrawn in quick succession. It was here that civil administration functionaries used to be summoned for inquiries & questioning and settlements of their demands done.

So went about contractors and other shady & shoddy characters to be dealt with. It was here that entire DC complex closed their official business & shifted to Imphal with CCPur civil administration outposts too followed suit to function from Churachandpur.

My Mission : I set out on my mission accompanied by Gold Medallist photo journalist Ratan Luwangcha, co-editor of newly started English Daily Huyuen-Lenpao because I had ardent desire to prepare a documentary telefilm of 20-30 minutes. Here is a report covering topography, demography, UGs/Security forces actions and finally a reflection on the slow moving Govt. Agencies notwithstanding bold activity also i.e., connecting Chakpikarong with Joupi via Mombi- a distance of 29 kms in a record time which would not have been possible if PWD Minister had not taken personal initiative to achieve it. But, what after that and circumstances leading to that situation is worth recollection before it is allowed to pass into oblivion.

Please read on.....

Peep into Brief Background : After GOI-NSCN (IM) (K) agreement on Cease-fire was inked in 1997/2001 and almost rejected point 13 of the 16 Point Agreement (1962) of GOI with NNC/NFG i.e. amalgamation of all Naga inhabited areas with then proposed Nagaland from Manipur resurfaced and presently almost the only point on which future resolution of Naga problem hinges appears to be hanging on a delicate thread, which meant & still means staining away of Manipur map by slicing away Naga inhabited areas (hills).

UNLF of Manipur (VBIG) shot into eminence and moved on full support wave and they wisely selected Sajik Tampak on the rider of public support as the hub of their political & insurgent activities. From this place activities were easier to be carried into CCPur & one Sub Division (Tuisom) of Tamenglong District may be with support of other likeminded UG outfits other than pure Meitei groups.

The scheme met major success and all the sub divisions of Chandel & CCPur were reduced to defunct or so from functional angle which in turn badly affected Chandel DC HQ. Police posts wherever they were, were negatively held; UGs outfits declared areas as 'Liberated Zone', so all the Police & Armed Police Posts were forced to shut. The wireless station-cum- post of Molchom was even burnt down later. Such systems continued for seven to eight years.

It was during 2004; Parliamentary Elections that gravity of situation unfolded when Election Commission of India questionnaires was found unanswered "Is State machinery fully geared for conduct of uninterrupted elections?" In the outer constituency no candidate had ever toured for canvassing because of heinously admitted fact, a Naga candidates as negative welcome in Chin-Kuki, Zou- area & vice versa.

But this time it came as an excuse to demand for huge security cover for candidates & so on. Intelligence agencies also indicated "all is not well". First time firm directions came from ECI (Election Commission of India) that 'no nonsense', elections have to be conducted smoothly and as per law.

44 Mountain Brigade moves in : State Govt. had tried just ahead of the elections to open 'Sajik Tampak' corridor with BSF being i/c of Police sector but they retreated as fast as they moved in because entrance from Kakching Khunou onwards was dominated by UNLF effectively which was till then under estimated by the State.

It is said the Force suffered two casualties. Intelligence agencies were equally at loss to assess the strength & strike power of the UGs. Since Parliamentary Elections are of paramount significance, for democratic evaluation of a political system of any nation so 'no nonsense' was bugging the State Govt. One complete 44 Mountain Brigade with additional complements from the Assam Rifles was moved in.

This Brigade put up a cut off line for the UGs element as 'Laxman Rekha' at Singtam and surrounding Hills with all sorts of conventional & non conventional methods pounded the area with heavy gunfire blank illuminating & in cases even live fire covering large areas & occupied Shaluk within hours of launching of OP FLUSH OUT.

Ration shops in areas were controlled for allowing locals to carry just sufficient rice & other necessities not more than three days basis. UG elements in important villages which are generally approach tracks linkage to State & national highways were having not only improvised but at places even fortified 'sangars' (from where Lethod bomb/Light machine gun fire could be directed against approaching troops) were slowing down advance of SF's to Sajik Tampak.

The task involved : UG were to be separated from villagers, their fire power neutralised and under all circumstances co-lateral damage to villagers avoided & yet aim was to be achieved. This was done by using illuminating fires at nights - liberally but with good fire control ensuring zero casualties on any villager(s).

Task was completed & within 7-10 days time Sajik Tampak which was since long a safe haven to all sorts of UG groups was overtaken from their combined HQs as they did not offer fight but kept on retreating towards Burmese territories &surrounding hills where no SF's were.

Since CCPur area was equally devoid of SF's right up to Tipaimukh Sub Division, Khopum valley and Vengai Range(closer to Jiribam) , it was not difficult for them to move to such areas without obstruction Eastern area of Shaluk- Singtam up to State road Pallel to Chandel (Distt HQ) was dominated by a different group of UGs i.e., Nagas who were signatory to Cease-fire with GOI but always on battle fatigue amongst themselves (K group) were causing worry to SFs though SF;s were hardly damaged by them.

So one or two particular group (VBIG) managed entry into almost 13-15 villages in west of UKHRUL District for safety, regrouping & hitting with connivance of NSCN(IM). But it all tarnished the image of SF's that Centre was directing them to a partisan politics. Hence when 44th Mtn Bde was withdrawn to the other sector, the entire area was left to the jurisdiction of only one Battalion of AR, strengthened with state & central intelligence agencies assessment that all UGs had vanished into Bangladesh/Myanmar, knowing little, that they had moved to hill valley merge peripheral area and Parbung-Langthulian areas of west of Churachandpur.

BUT elections were held without interference except an odd candidate coerced to withdraw from contest. Since Brigade was withdrawn, supports elements at Tulihal airport visibly withdrawn left AR (only one Battalion) to hold the vast areas, they were mauled badly by resurged activities of UGs, which media kept on reflecting in day to day confrontation to the State /people like Sanjay doing battle field events of Kurukshetra Battle of 14 days to Dhritrashtra while sitting at Hastinapur of Mahabharta epic story.

Senapati Range AR/26 Sector moves in : People again got convinced about superiority of the UG elements. It was at this stage that newly raised Senapati Range AR with full strength of four battalions under a Brigadier was moved into Chandel at speed post during 2005. This range is known as 26 sector also.

One Battalion occupied Sajik Tampak and one at Shaluk with base Battalion & other elements at Chandel. The additional strike battalions moved into Joupi & Chengjoi ranges to ensure strong foothold at Sajik Tampak and clear UGs right up to Somtal salient. Troops from special Army units called in to break all such impeachable barriers & air brone troops were in support (name of organisation withheld from security angle).

It took six months to clear areas up to old Somtal because of slow movement due unrecconoitred hill terrain, communication hold ups, not possible to encircle any stronghold of UG position since tactically held, coupled with steep descents on either side of high hills & move restricted to ridge routes only.

The positions on vacation were heavily mined with help of IEDs and UGs squads kept on retreating to New Samtal till pushed into Myanmar plains. A stage came that Samtal became untenable to hold because of its geo-physical proximity closer to Myanmar. No Myanmar post across and people movement free in their plains on bikes & mechanised transport to Moreh through their territory made it much easier for the UGs to appear closer from across the IB and at times cause attritions to SF's and disappear.

It is told that at one time most of the thatch roofed fighting bunkers & living area got burnt in fire caused by lethod bomb fire from across the IB. Uncontrolled retaliatory fire by SFs could have caused damage to civil population and invite international repercussions. This state was continuing so till we visited.

The villagers (Haokips) within old & new Samtal which we generally call Somtal Salient have been communicating (for all purposes) commercially & socially more with people in Myanmar than with Chandel/Tengnoupal since times immemorial and people in physicality's too resemble more with them. But they do vote for the political masters in Manipur 100% without seeing faces of contestants before or after voting; hence remain cut off from Manipur.

Thanks to this shake up, by Non-State & a retrieval action of State actors, almost 3000 of South Chandel Manipur was re-discovered for the first time. Curiously while at Sehlon, Hollengjang and Pholen; I asked villagers a range of questions on their nationality or internationality with people of Manipur, source of medical assistance etc, visits of SDO/DC, I was stunned to learn that it was none. Majority of them do not know what was national spirit.

They know only about UG administration & their chief's verdict even in absentsia. Incidentally chiefs do not stay with their people they stay in Sungnu & Imphal without exception. All schemes are implemented by chief & civil administration officers from mobile offices other than village unit.

No villager could produce job card in his possession under NREGS, the areas we visited. Throughout my sojourn no complaint was received against UGs other than that they were afraid of them. Items of public distribution system like kerosene & rice which were not available at Govt. rates in the valley used to be made available to public at even lower rates by UGs. Visit of Medical Doctor(s) used to be arranged by them once in a month or on required basis. Judicial disputes used to be settled by UGs.

to be continued....

* RS Jassal wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao - English Edition. This article was webcasted on June 14th, 2009.

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