Why the Formation of a Common Platform by Insurgent Groups from the Northeast Should Give the Government Cause for Worry

08 May 2015
S S Khaplang, the head of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), returning to his camp in Myanmar's Sagaing Division after addressing a joint rally of rebel groups. Khaplang has been appointed the chairman of the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW), a common platform that was formed on 17 April by separatist outfits from India and Myanmar.
Rajeev Bhattacharyya
S S Khaplang, the head of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), returning to his camp in Myanmar's Sagaing Division after addressing a joint rally of rebel groups. Khaplang has been appointed the chairman of the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW), a common platform that was formed on 17 April by separatist outfits from India and Myanmar.
Rajeev Bhattacharyya

On 3 May 2015, seven soldiers from the 23 Assam Rifles battalion and one jawan from the 164 Territorial Army Battalion were killed in the Mon district of Nagaland, during an ambush by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), an insurgent group from Nagaland that operates in the northeast of India and in Myanmar.

A day later, on 4 May, a press release issued by the anti-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) confirmed its membership, along with that of the NSCN(K), the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), in a joint forum called the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW). The forum was formed on 17 April by separatist outfits from India and Myanmar for an effective campaign of independence for the northeast and the contiguous Naga inhabited region in the neighbouring country. While the NDFB and ULFA are active in Assam, the KLO has a presence in north Bengal. The release went on to state that the objective of the coalition was the “unified and total struggle” for the liberation of “ancestral homes.”

Established after a series of meetings that were held last month in the Sagaing region of Myanmar, the UNLFW will function with Khaplang—the head of the NSCN-K who is based in Myanmar­‑—as the chairman.

The UNLFW’s declaration has culminated after a long sequence of events that began in early 2011 when the representatives of as many as twelve rebel groups from Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya held their first meeting to decide upon a common goal in Myanmar. However, their objective to float the front by the end of the year failed to materialise as some leaders could not confirm their participation at the proposed meeting. Furthermore, one group each from Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura backed out a year later, necessitating fresh efforts to create the front.

This is the fourth such initiative that separatist groups from different states in the northeast have undertaken to stitch a coalition. The first came as early as 1986 in Myanmar when the ULFA, UNLF and NSCN came together to explore the possibility of sending a combined delegation to China for weapons and training. The NSCN split into the Khaplang and Isak-Muivah factions two years later.  While NSCN(K) formed the Indo Burma Revolutionary Front (IBRF) with ULFA and UNLF, the NSCN(IM) formed another alliance with one group each from Assam and Meghalaya in the mid 1990s.

Rajeev Bhattacharya is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men.

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