The president of Kuki Chiefs’ Association, Tongpu Kipgen, has pitched for an Autonomous Kukiland Territorial Council in Manipur, saying it would present the ‘most workable solution if not the best’ for the Kukis in the state.
Claiming that the Kukis have ‘existed as separate nation since time immemorial and fought against intruders to defend their ancestral land and territories’, Kipgen said after much deliberations with Kuki undergrounds and civil society groups, he has decided to appeal to the Centre to take steps to bring about the autonomous region for Kukis under Art 244 of the Indian Constitution.
Kipgen also called for restoring the Kuki villages uprooted during the Naga-Kuki ethnic conflict and said the demand was ‘non-negotiable’.
Kipgen raised the demand during a conference at the ADC Hall in Manipur’s Kangpokpi with representatives of Kuki rebel groups and civil society leaders in presence of Avdhesh Bihari Mathur, currently Indian government’s interlocutor for negotiating with groups in Manipur and Assam.
R.N. Ravi, a former Intelligence Bureau (IB) official like Mathur, is the interlocutor for negotiating with the Naga groups.
Addressing the gathering, Mathur said both the Centre and the Manipur government were keen for an early solution of the issues raised by the Kuki groups.
Mathur told the Kuki leaders that the next round of talks with Kuki SoO groups will be held soon.
Mathur said that the Centre, which is holding talks with Naga and Kuki rebel groups, is also equally keen to hold talks with the Meitei underground groups.
“There will be no everlasting peace in Manipur unless all stakeholder groups are on board while holding discussions,” he said.
Stating that the terms of the talks cannot be disclosed in view of the ‘many issues and complications’, Mathur, however, assured that negotiations will be transparent.
“But it is best that day to day discussions are held behind closed doors,” Mathur said.
Mathur recalled the 1986 agreement with the Mizo National Front agreement as very successful ‘because every stake holder was on board’. He had helped the negotiations at that time with the MNF as an officer of Intelligence Bureau based in Aizawl.
Mathur said the groups involved in negotiations must ensure they remain united.
“Any differences between them will affect and delay the outcome of the talks,” said Mathur.
Mathur called upon tribal elders to ensure that different groups maintain peace among each other and work together to find a solution.
He pointed to how differences had obstructed a complete implementation of the 2003 agreement on the Bodo issue in Assam.
Before the meeting, the interlocutor also visited KNF/UPF designated camp, peace camp Ebenezer at Natheljang. He was accompanied by retired IGP (Admin) S Ibocha, who has been appointed as the representatives of government of Manipur for peace talks.
The agreement on Suspension of Operation (SoO) by the security forces was signed by the Central government with the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and the United People’s Front (UPF) of Manipur last in 2018.
The suspension of operation will continue until August 31, 2019. The two Kuki apex militant bodies as well as several other organisations of the community are demanding carving out of a separate Kuki state out of Manipur.
Many cadres of the KNO and the UPF are currently putting up at designated camps set up by the government in different Kuki-dominated areas in the state.
The SoO agreement was first signed in 2008 between the Centre, the state government and Kuki underground groups.
Currently, there are altogether 38 Kuki underground groups.