India-Myanmar: NSCN-K Steady Depletion

Image result for the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang
Yung Aung, the new chief of the SS Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. | Express Photo Services

By SATP 16 July 2019

By M.A. Athul*

The Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) launched the second phase of its Operation Sunrise-2, in the vicinity of Lahe and Nayun townships in the Sagaing Region of Myanmar, along the India-Myanmar border, targeting Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) based in Myanmar. The operation lasted 23 days – May 16 to June 8, 2019 – and resulted in the arrest of about 70 to 80 militants (group identity not disclosed) and destruction of seven to eight IIG camps.

The first phase of Operation Sunrise launched in the adjoining Taga area of Sagaing Region, lasted for 13 days – February 17 to March 2, 2019 – and resulted in the arrest of at least 24 IIGs (group identity not disclosed). Insurgents’ infrastructures, including temporary bases and training camps located in the area were dismantled.  

Significantly, the launch of the first phase of the Operation was preceded by the Tatmadaw taking control of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) ‘headquarters’, located in the Sagaing region, on January 29, 2019. There was no reported incident of arrest when Tatmadaw wrested control of the NSCN-K ‘headquarters.  

Evidently, the primary target of these Operations has been NSCN-K. Consequently, though they targeted all IIGs based in Myanmar, they had a particularly devastating impact on NSCN-K. Reports indicate that about 400 NSCN-K militants had shifted base to Myanmar after the outfit unilaterally abrogated the cease-fire agreement (CFA) on March 27, 2015, which it had earlier signed with the Government of India on April 28, 2001.

Significantly, on March 9, 2019, Tatmadaw arrested five NSCN-K leaders, identified as ‘peace committee’ leader U An Kam, ‘spokesperson’ U Kyaw Wan Sein, and ‘officers’ U Saw Htein, Aung Mai and Aung Sai, from the Sagaing Region. Incidentally, these leaders were arrested after the first phase of Operation Sunrise hadended.

With the Myanmar Army exerting pressure, NSCN-K militants, including leaders, attempted to cross over into India. Prominent among those arrested by the alert Indian forces while attempting to infiltrate were:

June 29, 2019: ‘Major’ Lukhato, considered to be close to ‘lieutenant general’ Nikki Sumi of NSCN-K. Lukhato was arrested from Zunheboto District in Nagaland. A pistol was recovered from his possession.

June 28, 2019: ‘Captain’ Mughato Sumi, arrested from south Point in Zunheboto District.

June 21, 2019: ‘Major general’ Yanghang aka Mopa of NSCN-K-Yung Aung faction, arrested along with two others at Abhoi in the Mon District of Nagaland. He was the highest ranking NSCN-K militant operating in India and controlled all the operations in Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.

Since, March 27, 2015, SFs have arrested at least 281 NSCN-K cadres from five States (data till July 14, 2019), according to partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). In 2015, 47 militants were arrested; another 48 in 2016; 91 in 2017; 70 in 2018 and 25 in 2019.

SFs have also killed 43 NSCN-K cadres over this period. At least 30 NSCN-K militants were killed in 2015; one in 2016; 10 in 2017; and two in 2018. No NSCN-K militant has been killed in 2019, so far.

NSCN-K was formed on April 30, 1988, after a split within the NSCN. The other group came to be known as NSCN-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM). NSCN-K signed a CFA with the Government of India on April 28, 2001. On June 7, 2011, Khole Konyak and N. Kitovi Zhimomi left NSCN-K to form NSCN-Khole Khitovi (NSCN-KK), currently identified as NSCN-Khitovi-Neopao (NSCN-KN), led by Kitovi Zhimomi and M.B. Neopao Konyak. NSCN-KK signed a CFA on April 27, 2012.

On March 27, 2015, two senior Kilonsers (ministers) – Wangtin Konyak aka Y. Wangtin Naga and T. Tikhak – were expelled from the NSCN-K. The expelled cadres formed the Reformation faction of the NSCN (NSCN-R) on April 6, 2015.

After the death of NSCN-K ‘chairman’ S.S. Khaplang on June 9, 2017, ‘lieutenant general’ Khango Konyak was made the leader of the NSCN-K. However, on August 17, 2018, Khango Konyak was removed from the position and Yung Aung, a Myanmarese national was elected as the ‘chairman’. Thus, two groups emerged – NSCN-K-Khango Konyak and NSCN-K-Yung Aung. In October 16, 2018, reports indicated that Khango Konyak, who was earlier based in Myanmar, had returned to Mon District in India. On April 15, 2019, the Khango-led NSCN-K- signed a CFA for a year.

The operational capabilities of the NSCN-K have steadily been depleting because of the actions taken by SFs of both India and Myanmar on the ground, as well as because of the increasing factionalization of the outfit. Myanmar Army Operations appear to have weakened the outfit considerably.

NSCN-K may still be able to mount isolated ambushes, but would, in all likelihood, not be able to mount a complex 2015 Chandel-type ambush in the foreseeable future. At least 18 Army personnel were killed in the Chandel attack.  

It now remains for India to take advantage of the situation and create an environment to force back the last prominently active Naga group, and bring it into the negotiation process.

*M.A. Athul
Research Assistant; Institute for Conflict Management

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