Mizoram Assessment 2017
On April 15, 2017, State Home Minister R. Lalzirliana reiterated that the Mizoram Government was ready to carry out repatriation of Bru (also known as Reang) families lodged at six relief camps in Tripura, and that the State Government had ‘completed all formalities’ which were supposed to be done in connection with the repatriation process. He also stated that, though the Supreme Court had called, on March 28, 2017, for status quo to be maintained; it clarified that people who wanted to move back should be asked to go.
Significantly, the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), the apex body of displaced Bru people staying in the six Tripura refugee camps, had filed an application in the Supreme Court (SC) stating that they feared the Union of India and the Tripura Government were trying to “force the Brus back to Mizoram without either proper security or proper rehabilitation”. The Court had consequently called for status quo to be maintained.
The MBDPF had filed the application following the Mizoram Government’s announcement on November 24, 2016, that it had identified 32,857 people belonging to 5,413 families for repatriation and the process was to begin ‘soon’. Mizoram officials had conducted identification at the Tripura relief camps between November 2, 2016, and November 23, 2016. There were other developments related to this issue through 2016. Most importantly, ‘Road Map-V’ was approved on July 1, 2016, proposing to conduct identification of the bona fide residents of Mizoram in the camps. Those willing to return were to be resettled in three Districts – Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei.
The Bru people had fled from Mizoram to Tripura in the wake of ethnic clashes with dominant Mizos in September 1997. An attempt at repatriation began in 2010 and small numbers even moved back. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA)’s latest Annual Report (2016-17), as on December 31, 2016, about 1,622 Bru families (approximately 8,573 people) out of 30,000 (approximately 5,000 families) had been repatriated and resettled in Mizoram.
Further, the stalled talks between the Mizoram Government and the Hmar People's Convention – Democracy (HPC-D), was revived in 2016, with the first round of talks held in the State capital, Aizawl, on August 10. This was followed by another two rounds of talks in 2016 (October 14 and December 16). On December 16, 2016, HPC-D, surrendered three AK-47 rifles, one INSAS rifle, four 9mm pistols, 17 magazines and 74 rounds of ammunition. The surrendered arms included a rifle of a Police constable, who had deserted the State Armed Police with the weapon and joined the militant outfit. Also, arms taken after the ambush at Zokhawthiang village near the Manipur border on March 28, 2015, were also surrendered. Earlier, HPC-D ‘army chief’ Lalropuia Famhoite had been released on bail on December 12, 2016. Optimistically, Lalbiakzama, Additional Secretary to the State Home Department, disclosed on February 18, 2017, that a proposed ‘framework agreement’ with HPC-D was on the cards and “Implementation of the proposed framework agreement would necessitate legislation by the State Assembly for establishment of a revamped council to be named as Sinlung Hills Council replacing [the existing] Sinlung Hills Development Council.” The fourth round of talks is scheduled to be held on April 28, 2017.
On two earlier occasions, such efforts for peaceful resolution had ended in failure. After prolonged talks, a Suspension of Operations (SoO) Agreement between the State Government and HPC-D was signed on November 11, 2010. It did not last long. After withdrawing from the SoO on June 30, 2011, the HPC-D declared, in a Press Release, "The wayward attitude of the Mizoram Government has given the impression that it is keener in derailing the peace process than opening honourable democratic platform to work out a solution to the legitimate demands of the Hmar people as enshrined in the Constitution."
Again, on January 31, 2013, HPC-D and the Government of Mizoram signed a SoO Agreement at Aizawl. The 2013 talks were preceded by a series of firm Security Forces (SFs) actions against the outfit. On June 10, 2012, SFs had arrested two top leaders of the group, ‘army chief’ Lalropuia Famhoite and ‘deputy army chief’ Biaknunga, at the Kumbigram Airport located in Silchar, Cachar District, Assam. Again, on July 18, 2012, H. Zosangbera, HPC-D 'chairman', was arrested from Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, by a combined team of the Mizoram and Delhi Police. However, all the three leaders were released on bail and talks were initiated again in 2013.
Later, the State Government wanted the SoO to be extended for another six months; while HPC-D sought a two month extension. During the July 18, 2013, talks, HPC-D stated that the further extension of SoO should be intrinsically linked with the fixation of a definite timeframe for a political dialogue. The SoO finally expired on July 31, 2013. The two sides however continued to talk, though the process finally ended in a stalemate on August 14, 2013.
Subsequently, HPC-D resumed violent activities, and was found responsible for all the three explosions reported from the State in 2014, though no casualty was reported in these incidents. A year later, the situation deteriorated further. On March 28, 2015, an ambush by the HPC-D militants on a vehicle carrying R.L. Pianmawia, Chairman of the 'Mizoram Assembly Committee on Government Assurances', and two other Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), Lalthanliana and the lone woman MLA Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu at Zokhawthiang area in Aizawl District, resulted in the death of three SF personnel on their security detail. Four SF personnel and one State Assembly staffer sustained injuries in the attack. The legislators escaped unhurt.
Hmar tribesmen are an ethnic minority mostly inhabiting the north-eastern corner of the State, and are demanding an autonomous council for the Hmar tribes.
These developments marked the further consolidation of peace across Mizoram through 2016. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Annual Report 2016-17 thus noted, “Since the signing of Accord with the Mizo National Front (MNF), [on June 30, 1986] there is no local militancy in the State of Mizoram. Mizoram remained by and large peaceful. In 2016, no incident of violence was reported as against 2 violent incidents of 2015.”
According to partial Data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there were no terrorism-linked fatalities through 2016 in Mizoram as against three killings (all SF personnel) in 2015. The last civilian fatality in the State was recorded on October 15, 2014, when dead bodies of two non-tribals were found near the Tuikhurhlu area in Aizawl. The last militant killing was recorded on February 26, 2008, when Thangcha Kipgen, ‘president’ of the Kuki Liberation Army (KLA), was killed in a hotel room in capital Aizawl in an alleged factional fight. HPC-D was the only prominent Mizoram-based insurgent still operating within the State, and since its signing of the SoO, no significant local insurgent formation remained active. Media reports, however, indicate the presence of a minor group, the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram (BDFM), whose cadres were reportedly involved in a number of abductions-for-ransom incidents in the Mizoram-Bangladesh-Tripura border areas, in connivance with the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT). On April 20, 2017, Mizoram Home Minister R. Lalzirliana disclosed that three BDFM militants were arrested in the Lawngtlai District near the Bangladesh border on April 16, 2017, while trying to enter Mizoram from Bangladesh. Two AK-47 rifles and 39 rounds of ammunition were seized from them.
Sporadic incidents of violence continue to be carried out by insurgent outfits operating out of neighbouring states like Assam and Tripura, and prominently include the Tripura-based NLFT and the Assam-based United Democratic Liberation Army (UDLA).
However, no other violent incidents linked to militancy, such as abductions, extortion and explosions were recorded in 2016, according to the SATP database. In 2015, two incidents of extortion had been recorded by SATP. However, according to State Police data, there were six cases of abduction in 2016, down from 15 such cases in 2015. Similarly 15 cases of extortion were recorded in 2016 compared to 24 such cases in 2015. State Police data does not reveal the affiliation of the those involved in these incidents, or whether they were cadres of insurgent groups or local criminals.
While peace generally prevails, some threats persist. One of the major among these is the active terror camps of Northeast insurgent groups along India’s border with Myanmar and Bangladesh (Mizoram shares its porous border with both these countries). In a significant incident on December 8, 2016, Mizoram Police and Assam Rifles (AR) troopers jointly raided a militant hideout located five kilometres from the Saiha town in the Saiha District of Mizoram near the Kolodyne River, along the Indo-Myanmar border, and arrested eight militants of the Myanmar based Arakan Liberation Army (ALA), along with sophisticated weapons and ammunition. The arrested militants were identified as Khaing Thi Zaw, Khaing Myo, Khaing Ray Min, Khaing Ming, Khaing min Htoo, Khaing Raing, Khaing Myo Naing and Khaing Zaw.
Securing the border, consequently, is of paramount importance. According to the UMHA website, there are only 18 Border Outposts (BOPs), as against a sanctioned 91, along the 318 kilometres long Indo-Bangladesh border which falls within the State. 222.89 kilometres of this border has been fenced, as against a sanctioned 349.33 kilometres [the sanctioned length of fencing exceeds the total length of the border in official documents].
Mizoram, along with Tripura, remains the most peaceful state in India’s long-troubled Northeast, and can become the fulcrum for New Delhi’s ‘Act East’ policy, emerging as a gateway to South East Asia, if Infrastructure and connectivity are vastly improved, which in turn could have a multiplier effect, both on the State and the region as a whole. Mizoram has much to gain from peacefully addressing remaining unresolved issues of ethnic minorities such as the Hmar and Brus.