Counter-Terrorism: The Maoist Maniacs Of Manipur

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October 31,2008: India believes it has defeated the tribal separatists in its northeast, except, perhaps, for the state of Manipur. Throughout the northeast, there are still thousands of armed rebels out there who, while no longer fighting to throw off Indian rule, are now making a good living as bandits. But in Manipur, violence from a combination and tribal and political rebels continues to grow.

There has been rebel activity in the seven states of northeast India (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya) for over 60 years. The total population of this area is 39 million, with most of it (72 percent) in Assam. Despite peace breaking out in most of the region,  Manipur continues to smolder. On October 21st, a bomb went off in a gambling hall there that left 18 dead, including three policemen. The local communist rebels claimed responsibility for this, claiming that they were trying to eliminate the vice of gambling from Manipur.

The war with the communists has been bloody. Four years ago, several thousand Indian troops cleared two thousand communist rebels out of camps in Manipur. The operation uncovered about a hundred camps. About 25 rebels were killed and 34 captured. The rest fled, some into neighboring Myanmar. But there, they often encountered Myanmar troops, who have been newly stationed along the border to try and prevent the communist groups from freely crossing. The communist Maoist rebels have increasingly built up their system of camps in Manipur, and this recently reached the point where the Indian government considered it more than just a nuisance.

Over the past five years, the government has eliminated rebel sanctuaries in neighboring Bhutan and Bangladesh. But the rebels have adapted, and continued to operate, especially the Maoist communists. Although Manipur has a population of 2.5 million, it suffered more dead (314) last year than neighboring Assam (209 dead and a population of 27 million.) For the last five years, terrorist violence has left over 300 dead each year in Manipur (which has over 30 tribes, but tribal rebels are much less of a problem than the Maoists).

The energetic counter-terror efforts of the last five years has led to the various political and tribal rebel groups in Manipur to join together (rather than sometimes fight with each other, as in the past.) The battle is intense, with nearly 500 clashes so far this year. Manipur has four times as many police per 100,000 people (554) than the Indian average (127). The main problem is the same as the rest of the northeast; the movement of people from the rest of India into the area, without the native tribes having any say in the matter.

Inept local government, and the influx of poor outsiders and ancient tribal animosities have led to over half a century of rebel activities. Most of the rebels rely on banditry (theft and extortion) to sustain themselves, and most Manipuris just want peace. But now the Maoists are seeking to establish a communist dictatorship, and that idea has caught on with many young men who are willing to die, and steal, for it.

 


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