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Tension, confusion in Karbi Anglong

Diphu, Jan. 7: The atmosphere in the Guwahati-Jorhat Jan Shatabdi Express was normal at Guwahati. Another 200km and past Lumding, from where it enters Karbi Anglong district, the mood changed.

At Diphu, the headquarters of Karbi Anglong, where the train reached around 10.20am, someone said: “There is a bandh in the district from 2pm today till 5am tomorrow.”

“No. The bandh has been withdrawn,” countered an autorickshaw driver just outside the station. “We hear there will be a long bandh because of the trouble,” he added.

It was only around 1pm, an hour before the bandh was due to begin, when word finally spread that the Karbi Students’ Association (KSA) faction that had called the bandh had withdrawn it.

Confusion and tension has prevailed in the district since suspected Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers (KPLT) attacked a Rengma Naga village, Khowanigaon, under Borpathar police station in Bokajan subdivision, about 100km from here, on December 27, killing six persons. Hundreds of Rengma Nagas fled their villages and took shelter in relief camps at Chokihola, about 10km away. Altogether 3,131 people are taking shelter in nine relief camps, mostly under Chokihola and Borpathar police stations.

Karbi villagers in nearby villagers fled home too after a Karbi youth was killed by suspected Naga Rengma Hills Protection Force (NRHPF), a small militant group, at Kargaon Rongpi village under Khatkhati police station on January 4, the day bodies of nine persons from Karbi Anglong were found in Dimapur in Nagaland.

The attacks by the two militant groups have triggered apprehension that the bond the Karbi and Rengma Naga communities have shared since ages may be in shreds.

“We have witnessed clashes between the Karbis and the Kukis, between the Dimasas and Hindi-speaking migrants, but we have never had any problem with the Rengma Nagas. We must not allow this tension to disturb our relations,” Leichang Engleng, the president of KSA (Engleng faction), told The Telegraph.

“KPLT and NRHPF shun violence, let our people live in peace, Karbi and Rengma Are Brothers”, read two banners near the Diphu playground. The banners were put up by Karbi Anglong Peace Forum, an umbrella organisation of 30 local organisations campaigning for peace in the insurgency-hit district, after nine persons from the district were gunned down in Dimapur in neighbouring Nagaland on December 28.

Karbi Anglong had witnessed violence till two major militant groups, the KLNLF and the UPDS, laid down arms. But the emergence of the KPLT in 2011 and a few smaller groups like the NRHPF has rekindled the sense of insecurity.

“Twenty-three people belonging to both KPLT and NRHPF have been arrested so far for their role in the recent attacks. They get arms from the NSCN and are mostly into extortion in the district,” Karbi Anglong superintendent of police Mugdha Jyoti Mahanta said, minutes before he left for Bokajan.

The NRHPF has reportedly claimed responsibility for the Dimapur killings.

As local groups stepped up the peace campaign, the KSA leader said the administration’s failure to control trouble brewing in the area since June last year had led the situation to escalate and erupt in violence. “In June, the deputy commissioner had convened a meeting at his office and informed us that there was the possibility of ethnic clashes between the Karbis and Rengmas. But no one was called from the Rengma community in the meeting. Had the administration taken proper security measures, the December 27-like incident would not have occurred,” he said.

A Rengma youth here said strong action should be initiated against the militant groups to prevent further tension between Rengma Nagas and Karbis. “I have learnt to speak Karbi to avoid trouble as I live here,” he said. There are nearly 10,000 Rengma Nagas in Karbi Anglong.