Confrontation between Myanmar Army, NSCN-K in Sagaing ends with no casualties after rebels make 'tactical withdrawal'

The central headquarters of the Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) in Myanmar’s Sagaing division remains intact despite a confrontation with the Myanmar Army in which no casualties were reported

Rajeev Bhattacharyya July 29, 2018 21:15:38 IST
Confrontation between Myanmar Army, NSCN-K in Sagaing ends with no casualties after rebels make 'tactical withdrawal'

The central headquarters of the Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) in Myanmar’s Sagaing division remain intact despite a confrontation with the Myanmar Army. No casualties were reported in the incident.

NSCN(K) functionaries said the 'altercation' with the Myanmar Army was triggered over a checkpost of the rebel group near a Buddhist monastery at Taga in Hukwang Valley where its central headquarters is located.

Confrontation between Myanmar Army NSCNK in Sagaing ends with no casualties after rebels make tactical withdrawal

Cadres of NSCN(K), PREPAK, and KYKL ahead of joint parade in Myanmar's Taga. Image courtesy: Rajeev Bhattacharyya)

“Around 100 personnel from the army are stationed near the monastery and they wanted the outpost to be dismantled. NSCN(K) was initially reluctant but later decided to withdraw. There was no exchange of fire,” said a middle-rung cadre stationed at the border village of Longwa in Nagaland’s Mon district.

Media reports claiming an operation has been launched by the Myanmar Army against the rebel camps and training facilities in Taga raised eyebrows as the ties between the Naga and Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s armed forces) have been cordial—barring a few exceptions—since an informal agreement was reached between them in 2001.

This was later converted into a written accord on 9 April, 2012, with Naga delegates from Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh also attending the function held at Hkamti. This event was organised only two months after this correspondent visited Taga to interview former NSCN(K) chairman SS Khaplang and other rebel leaders.

However, there was no Buddhist monastery in Taga, a sparsely populated area comprising a few villages inhabited by Pangmi Nagas. Located about 15 kilometres from the Chindwin river, it is also home to other separatist groups from the North East such as the United Liberation Front of Assam, People's Liberation Army, United National Liberation Front, People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak and others that have joined hands with NSCN(K).

Isak Sumi, a Yangon-based spokesperson of NSCN(K), said on Facebook that the 'stand-off between the Myanmar Army and the Naga Army has temporarily been resolved without untoward incident, but the Naga Army had to make a tactical withdrawal.' His statement was misinterpreted to mean that the Myanmar Army launched a crackdown against the camps in deference to the continuous pleas from the Indian government to dismantle these facilities.

Though it is not precisely known if NSCN(K) chairman Khango Konyak has shifted from the headquarters, what appears certain is the presence of many mid-rung leaders from all the outfits in Taga currently. The camp belongs to eight groups from Assam and Manipur and is within a radius of 10 kilometres from the NSCN(K) headquarters and only consists of only a few huts.

Incident linked to Panglong Peace Conference?

NSCN(K) delegates were invited as observers to attend the third session of the 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference held between 11 and 16 July, 2018, in Naypyidaw. The conclave has been convened by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to arrive at a consensus toward a peace accord that would end decades of conflict with ethnic armed organisations.

The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, envisaged as a foundation-stone for the peace process, was inked between the government and eight ethnic armed groups in 2015. However, most of the powerful groups have continued to oppose the agreement. NSCN(K) has stuck to its demand of sovereignty, although the country’s constitution has offered a Naga Self-Administered Zone covering the townships of Lahe, Leshi and Nanyun in Sagaing Division.

After the conference, government spokesperson Zaw Htay was quoted by the media as saying that the NSCN(K) would not be allowed to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement because of its demand for an independent Naga homeland which extends to both sides of the Indo-Myanmar border. Several NSCN(K) cadres are of the firm opinion that the confrontation at Taga was also a stern message about Naypyidaw’s displeasure over the Nagas’ rigid stance at the conference.

“They (Myanmar government) are irked with the Nagas because the NSCN(K) declared in categorical terms that signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement could be a possibility only after the boundary issue of the Naga homeland was resolved,” said Athong Makury, the Myanmar-based president of Council for Naga Affairs.

Why is Myanmar Army reluctant to act against rebels?

All the rebel camps in Sagaing Division can be divided into two cateogories: In the northern zone contiguous to Nagaland and the eastern districts of Arunachal Pradesh and the camps in the south adjacent to the border districts of Manipur. The northern zone, which is under the control of NSCN(K), is one of the most undeveloped regions in Myanmar— smilar to the Chin State where facilities such as roads, electricity, schools and hospitals are yet to be established. In this region, there are four zones where the rebel camps are located in close proximity to each other and the nearest is the general headquarters across Chanmu in Nagaland’s Mon.

The 2012 pact has benefitted both the NSCN(K) and the Myanmar Army. The country’s flag is now seen fluttering in several Naga villages, which was unthinkable a decade ago. Myanmarese teachers have also begun teaching the language to Naga children in some villages in makeshift classrooms. The end of hostilities meant the Myanmar Army has been able to divert its troops to the conflict zones in Kachin and Shan States where a full scale battle is still on with ethnic rebel groups. This apart, the army has also stationed a large chunk of its personnel in Rakhine State which witnessed severe violence last year.

Under such conditions, the Myanmar Army is unlikely to wage war immediately against the Nagas in spite of repeated requests from New Delhi. NSCN(K) can muster the support of the other rebel outfits in a short span: Which explains why the camps are located in close vicinity of each other. On some occasions earlier, camps of Manipuri groups raided by the Myanmar Army resurfaced within a few weeks. One such incident occurred on 17 October, 2011, when a UNLF camp was burnt in Taga by the army but there were no casualties.

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