Burmese Naga rebel chieftain SS Khaplang’s truce with Myanmar’s Thein Sein government in 2012 is believed to have reinvigorated northeast militant outfits that began losing steam after the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) declared truce in July 1997.
The Myanmar government reportedly arranged Khaplang’s transport from his base in northern Sagaing division to a Yangon hospital recently for treatment. This underscores the 2012 deal ensuring the safety of Khaplang’s bases from attacks by the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) that reportedly, unlike Bhutan and Bangladesh, is not interested in chasing India rebels out.
The safety of these bases made other northeast outfits such as the Paresh Baruah faction of United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa-Independent) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland-Songbijit turn to the NSCN-K.
For Khaplang, intelligence officials say, sheltering other groups serves a dual purpose. It generates revenue since the others pay to use his facilities and weapons, and gives him extra fighting hands against enemies, besides making him a ‘natural leader’ of an anti-Indian coalition.
For the other outfits, Khaplang’s are the safest trans-border bases with Bhutan and Bangladesh turning ‘hostile’ due to improved diplomatic relations with New Delhi.
“What made Khaplang turn against India after 14 years of truce was the allegation that New Delhi was isolating the Nagas on the Indian side,” Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of Imphal Free Press and an observer of northeast militancy, said.
There are close to 50 Naga tribes spread across India and Myanmar. The division within the NSCN-K on ‘Indian’ and ‘Burmese’ lines became apparent when two leaders formed the Khole-Kitovi factions a few years ago.
“The MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) officials probably wanted to wash their hands off Khaplang, leaving him to settle his scores with the Myanmar government,” Phanjoubam said.