Sunday, September 11, 2011

ULFA signs pact, Bangladesh visit disappoints

A suspension of operations pact was signed between the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Indian and Assam Governments on the first day of their latest round of talks in Delhi. The pact is a stop gap measure, intended to be in place until a political agreement is reached.  Commentators have provided a full spectrum of responses, from optimism - because for example the move echoes similar steps taken earlier in Tripura - to mystification - how can a ceasefire be declared when one of the parties is for all intents and purposes already disarmed?  Parallel talks involving the Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF), a group with close ties to ULFA, were inconclusive.

Meanwhile, the Indian Government is worried that the recent acquisition of Chinese arms by the Paresh Baruah, or anti-talks, faction of ULFA (see this post) could ultimately be destined for Maoists.  Bibhu Prasad Routray recently wrote an article on fledgling northeast-Maoist militant links.  In an interesting development, given the credit given to Bangladesh in ultimately bringing talks faction of ULFA to the negotiating table, anti-talk faction bases in Burma were attacked by the Burmese army (with supplies from the Indian government) this week. 

The general consensus on PM Manmohan Singh's visit, together with a number of northeast Chief Ministers, to Bangladesh this week, is disappointment, tempered by some important gains.  West Bengal's relatively new Chief Minister pulled out at the last minute to protest the proposed Teesta river water sharing agreement.  This step apparently worked, with no water sharing agreements signed.  Likely as a result, the much anticipated (on the Indian side) transit agreement also failed to materialise.  This reportedly resulted in a “wave of disappointment” in Tripura.  Neither did the hoped-for extradition of a senior ULFA figure eventuate.

All in all, the visit resulted in one agreement (the obscurely titled “Comprehensive Framework Agreement on Co-operation”) and nine deals (including on university cooperation and renewable energy).  One of the major achievements was the signing of a border pact finalising land swaps between Bangladesh and Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal.  This should finally give formerly stateless people definite citizenship rights.  The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)  however decried the lack of consultation on the pact.  

The blockades in Manipur continue.  The SHDDC announced that the general strike was over on Tuesday, but the economic blockades of national highways remain.  The Chinland Guardian has an interview with the General Secretary of the Kuki International Forum.  He gives a good overview of the technicalities behind the demand for a Sadar Hills district.  Another comprehensive background document is available from E-Pao.  And it seems demands for new districts in Manipur are in fashion: another such movement in Tongjei Marin emerged this week.

Despite all the talk about Irom Sharmila of late, the AFSPA was officially extended for another six months in Tripura this week.

29 Naga militants surrendered to authorities in Manipur this week.  Significantly none identified as National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) militants.

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