PHOTO : TIWN / PMO India
The law and order situation in Manipur has improved dramatically, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi says, but warns that no part of the state can ever be a part of Greater Nagaland.
With assembly elections not far away, the Congress leader said people in the state no longer lived in fear of the various militant groups, big and small.
"In the past, shops and kiosks pulled down shutters by nightfall and people stayed at home. Today people can be seen (on the streets) till late in the night and shopkeepers do brisk business," Ibobi told IANS in an interview.
Militants used to sneak into Manipur from neighbouring Myanmar to commit crime and escape, he said.
"We have beefed up security at the border towns with the result that militants cannot make their presence felt now," the Chief Minister said in an interview.
More than 30 insurgent outfits used to operate in the urban areas of Manipur. Police claim a significant fall in insurgency-related violence. But stray bomb attacks continue.
"The people who are fed up with the senseless violence of the insurgents provide vital information about them (to the authorities)," said the Chief Minister.
According to Ibobi, the insurgents cannot find easy shelter even in the hills as almost all the tribal underground outfits have come overground after signing the Suspension of Operations (SoO) pact.
He however admitted that there were complaints against the activities of some of these groups. Ibobi said: "We are in touch with the central security forces to enforce the ground rules.
"We have been drawing the attention of the Centre to the presence of the signatories to ceasefire in Manipur who should be confined to Nagaland only."
The NSCN-K has abrogated the ceasefire pact and resumed attacks against security forces. Ibobi disclosed that several cadres of the two Nagaland-based outfits had fanned out to other states in the northeast although they should be, legally, confined to Nagaland.
Despite threats to veto the state government order, Ibobi had on August 12, 2004, lifted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, from seven assembly segments in Manipur.
"In the long run it has helped improve the law and order in the state," the Congress leader said. "There is no immediate plan to lift the AFSPA from other segments since we fear that in view of objections from the Defence Ministry, the government move may be vetoed," he added.
Ibobi complained that the state government had got no cooperation from the Centre on AFSPA, which gives sweeping powers to security forces.
And despite numerous allegations of rights abuses, security personnel were not prosecuted as prior approval of the Centre was a must and no such approval was given, he said.
The Chief Minister also told IANS that he had conveyed to the Centre that there cannot be a redrawing of the map of Manipur which has had a written history of more than 2,000 years.
Votaries of Greater Nagaland have demanded parts of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh to be added to a proposed Naga homeland.
Ibobi also said that the provisions of the Sixth schedule of the Constitution, which permits autonomy for hill areas, shall not be extended to Manipur.
"Some officials in Delhi who do not know the ground realities had asked me why it cannot be done since it was extended to the Bodo areas of Assam.
"The Bodo Territorial Council is a mere dot in Assam's map. In case of Manipur, which is smaller than any district of Assam, 90 per cent of the territory falls in the hill districts. The non-tribal valley areas constitute just 10 per cent of the territory.
"The government is ready to give sufficient funds for development and administrative and financial assistances. The only condition is that the state government shall monitor the mode of spending and implementation."
(Iboyaima Laithangbam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)