Insurgents capture Indian Army’s Soldiers, Officers

Bureau Report

NEW DELHI: The NSCN(IM) has emerged as a major roadblock in the path of an amicable resolution of the Naga issue since it is adamant on its twin demands for a separate flag and separate Constitution for the Nagas.
A large patrol party of the 25th battalion of the Assam Rifles based at Jalukie town in Peren district of Nagaland was ‘captured’ and detained for over an hour by heavily-armed cadres of the insurgent outfit Thuingaleng Muivah-led faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (called NSCN-IM) late Friday (January 27) afternoon.
The incident has sparked outrage among senior officers of the Assam Rifles and the Army, who are planning to ask the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to warn the Naga insurgent group against such misadventure in future.
According to top officers at the headquarters of the Indian Army’s 3 Corps at Rangapahar near Nagaland’s commercial capital Dimapur, a 31-strong party of the 25 Assam Rifles led by a young officer went out for patrolling duty at the Intanki National Park.
But while returning, the Assam Rifles team lost its way and inadvertently ventured close to the NSCN(IM) designated headquarters that goes by the name of ‘Camp Hebron’ which is also located in Peren district.
Heavily-armed cadres of the NSCN(IM) aggressively confronted the Assam Rifles soldiers and ‘captured’ them. They made the soldiers sit down on the ground and detained them for nearly an hour. The militants also ques-tioned the Assam Rifles soldiers about details of their patrolling routes, how often they go out on such patrols and other operational details.
The officer leading the patrolling team explained to the Naga militants that they had lost their way and did not know that they had come close to the outfit’s headquarters. He tried to patiently reason with them. After nearly an hour, the Naga militants lef by a self-styled ‘Major’ let the Assam Rifles soldiers leave.
According to the ceasefire agreement between the Government of India and the NSCN(IM) signed on August 1, 1997, Indian security forces cannot venture near any designated camp of the Naga outfit.
The Naga insurgents accused the Assam Rifles party of violating the cease-fire. A communique issued by the NSCN(IM) said that despite the “grave violation” of the ceasefire, the Assam Rifles party was allowed to go “in the spirit of the ceasefire agreement”.
But the Assam Rifles officer was asked to tell his seniors that a similar vio-lation of the ceasefire agreement in future would “invite stern action” and “lead to grave consequences”.
The incident has angered top officers of the paramilitary Assam Rifles as well as the Indian Army. “It was apparent that the soldiers had lost their way and had no intention of carrying out any surveillance on Camp Hebron or indulging in any offensive action. But they were still detained. This is un-forgivable,” a senior officer at IGAR (North), the Assam Rifles operational headquarters for Nagaland at state capital Kohima.
“The NSCN’s claim that they ‘captured’ our soldiers is also outrageous. And these militants have no powers to detain our soldiers. If any violation of the ceasefire agreement had taken place, the NSCN should have taken it up immediately with the Ceasefire Monitoring Group instead of taking such offensive action,” the DIG (Brigadier)-ranked officer of the Assam Ri-fles told Swarajya.
The Assam Rifles top brass has already taken up the issue with the MHA; the paramilitary force is under the MHA though it is commanded by offic-ers on deputation from the Indian Army. Senior officers of the Army’s 3 Corps have discussed the matter with the Eastern Army Commander (the GOC-in-C of Eastern Command) Lieutenant General Rana Pratap Kalita. It is learnt that the Army Headquarters will take up the offensive action by Naga militants with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
What the army officers find egregious is the posturing by the NSCN(IM). “The NSCN(IM) cadres and even their senior ranks violate the ceasefire ground rules at will and raise a hue and cry when they are caught. But an innocuous and inadvertent transgression on our part is made into a big is-sue and then they (the Naga militants) resort to posturing to paint them-selves as the good guys. This is completely unacceptable,” a senior officer at the Army’s Eastern Command headquarters in Kolkata told Swarajya.
He said that the gravest violation of the ceasefire ground rules by the Naga outfit is the rampant extortion that they carry out in a blatant manner with complete immunity. The outfit is widely known to collect ‘taxes’ amounting to tens of crores of Rupees from government employees as well as employees in private organisations, professionals like doctors, architects and chartered accountants, and businessmen and traders, every month.
The NSCN(IM) is also believed to extract a large share from government contracts. Leaders and cadres of the outfit often carry arms outside their designated camps in violation of ceasefire ground rules.
The Naga militant outfit has been accused of gun-running and drug traf-ficking. But these violations of the ceasefire round rules are often over-looked for the sake of keeping peace and in order to prevent derailing the ongoing peace talks between the Government of India and the NSCN(IM).
But, say Army officers, the Naga militant group crossed a red line Friday and transgressions of the ceasefire ground rules will not be tolerated from now on. “The NSCN(IM) has operated with immunity and broken not only the ceasefire ground rules, but also the laws of the country with impunity. It is time such transgressions are punished,” said an officer.
The NSCN(IM) has emerged as a major roadblock in the path of an amica-ble resolution of the Naga issue since it is adamant on its twin demands for a separate flag and separate Constitution for the Nagas. The Government of India has flatly refused to concede these demands.
But other Naga political groups and civil society organisations are keen on resolving the Naga issue to usher in lasting peace, and are not insistent on the demands for a Naga flag and constitution.