Imphal, Oct. 1: The Centre’s attempt to start a dialogue with the Kuki National Front (Military Council) of Manipur has evoked a hostile reaction from its rival faction, raising questions about the prudence of negotiating with just one section of the insurgent leadership.
As in Nagaland, where the rivalry between the NSCN factions intensified after the Centre started negotiating with the Isak-Muivah group, the peace initiative in Manipur has sparked a confrontation between the two Kuki outfits.
The information and publicity secretary of the Kuki National Front (KNF), L.H. Stephen Kuki, today accused the KNF(MC) of secretly striking a deal with the Centre through Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga. He said the Centre should have known that establishing contact with the KNF(MC) through Zoramthanga, a former insurgent leader, would create misunderstanding instead of solving the problem.
A Kuki leader confirmed that the KNF(MC) was in touch with the Centre, but said the outfit was yet to discuss the issue with representatives of the community. “As of now, no community leader is involved in the process. The outfit contacted the Centre through the Mizoram channel. We do not have details about the move,” he said.
Sources said the Centre decided to initiate talks with the Kuki insurgent leadership after the success of its campaign to bring the NSCN (I-M) to the negotiation table.
Though neither the Centre nor the KNF(MC) has officially committed itself to a dialogue, a debate has begun on which outfit is the real representative of the Kukis. The KNF had split in 1995, with one unit identifying itself as the “president faction” and the other as the “military council”. The split was the result of differences between the “president” of the outfit and the “commander” of the military wing.
Stephen Kuki said his outfit’s rivals had “no authority” to begin a dialogue with the Centre under the “KNF banner”. He said two leaders of the KNF(MC), Seikham Kipgen and Jampu Haokip, were in New Delhi to negotiate with Intelligence Bureau officials.
“How can they use the name ‘KNF’ to begin a dialogue with the Centre without being authorised to do so by our president, Thangboi Kuki'” he asked.
The militant leader said the “KNF command” was opposed to the idea of establishing contact with the Centre through the Mizoram chief minister. “It is not in the interests of Manipur’s (territorial) integrity,” he added.
The two factions of the KNF have a common goal — a separate homeland for the Kuki community — and consider the NSCN(I-M) an enemy. The KNF had been constituted in the early 90s to counter the NSCM(I-M)’s hegemony in the Kuki-inhabited areas. Over 2,000 people have been killed in Naga-Kuki clashes.