NSCN(K) leader SS Khaplang dies in Myanmar

Updated on Jun 09, 2017 11:15 PM IST

Reclusive Naga militant leader Shangnyu Shangwang Khaplang died in Myanmar. He was 77.

NSCN (K) chairman SS Khaplang died in Myanmar.(HT File Photo)
NSCN (K) chairman SS Khaplang died in Myanmar.(HT File Photo)
Hindustan Times, Guwahati | By

One of the most dreaded rebel leaders in the Northeast and a foe-turned-friend-turned-foe of the Indian armed forces, SS Khaplang, died in his Myanmar base Friday night.

The 77-year-old Khaplang, chairman of the Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K), died of renal complications, officials in Nagaland quoting “reliable sources” in Myanmar said.

“We have learnt that Khaplang died today (Friday) evening at Taga (in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division). He was not keeping well and had undergone surgery earlier,” Nagaland’s director-general of police LL Doungel said.

A central intelligence officer said Khaplang had moved to Taga, the NSCN-K’s headquarters, from his village Waktham, east of Pangsau Pass on the Arunachal Pradesh-Myanmar border.

“The Naga rebel leader is likely to be buried near the Taga camp on Saturday, and Akhio Konyak, one of the senior leaders after him, could take over as the next NSCN-K chairman to continue the fight the governments both in Myanmar and India,” the officer said, declining to be named.

Born at Waktham village in April 1940, Khaplang was the youngest of 10 siblings. Belonging to Myanmar’s Hemi Naga tribe, he had a home in China’s Yunnan province besides the one in his native Myanmar village.

Unconfirmed reports say he has left behind three sons and a daughter settled far from the conflict zone encompassing large swathes of Myanmar and Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur in India.

Indian intelligence agencies had allegedly cultivated Khaplang to divide the NSCN that was formed in 1980. The outfit eventually split in 1988 – Khaplang leading one faction and Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah leading the other (Isak-Muivah).

Swu died in Delhi on June 26 last year.

Indian agencies also allegedly used Khaplang to trigger frequent fratricidal battles between the two factions that killed more rebels than in encounters with the armed forces.

NSCN-K declared truce with Delhi in 2001, four years after the rival Isak-Muivah faction. But it walked out of the truce in March 2015 and renewed the “war of independence” against India. Khaplang added a new dimension to insurgency in the Northeast by cobbling together a front of disparate rebel outfits. He became the head of this front – United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia that carried out an ambush on the army’s Dogra Regiment in Manipurs’ Chandel district in June 2015, killing 18 soldiers.

It was one of the deadliest strikes in more than two decades.

A rebel is born

It is said that World War II – his village is close to the 1,726 km Stilwell Road that the Allied forces used only once in 1945 to take supplies to China against the Japanese army – sowed the seeds of insurgency in Khaplang.

In 1964, almost a decade after Nagaland’s legendary AZ Phizo declared war on India, Khaplang formed the Naga Defence Force. A year later, he became the vice chairman of the Eastern Naga Revolutionary Council.

During this period, Khaplang helped young recruits go to China for training. It was on such a mission that the poorly-educated Khaplang met the Manipur-based Muivah, an MA from Gauhati University.

After the failure of the Shillong Accord (between Delhi and Phizo’s Naga National Council) in 1975, Khaplang and Muivah went underground and formed the NSCN.

It was a group that many in Nagaland felt was headed by outsiders – the Burmese Khaplang and the ‘Manipuri’ Muivah. But it soon became one of the strongest outfits in the Northeast until the split in 1988.

The split was attributed to clan rivalries between the Konyaks of Nagaland’s Mon district and the Tangkhuls of Manipur’s Ukhrul district. Muivah is a Tangkhul.

But the two factions have invariably agreed on ‘Greater Nagalim’ that envisages bringing all Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar and India under one administrative umbrella.

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    Rahul Karmakar was part of Hindustan Times’ nationwide network of correspondents that brings news, analysis and information to its readers. He no longer works with the Hindustan Times.

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