- Union Home Minister Amit Shah Wednesday announced the signing of a peace agreement with the Meitei separatist group United National Liberation Front (UNLF) in Manipur, terming it a “historic milestone.”
- The Home Minister also expressed the hope that this would encourage other valley-based insurgent groups (VBIGs) to participate in a peace process.
What is the UNLF?
- The UNLF was formed in 1964, and is the oldest valley-based insurgent group — distinct from the insurgent groups active in the state’s Naga-dominated and Kuki-Zomi dominated hills.
- It was formed with the demand of secession from India under the leadership of Arembam Samarendra Singh, who was the general secretary of the group.
- The UNLF is believed to have received its initial training from the NSCN (IM), the largest Naga insurgent group. Its armed wing, the Manipur People’s Army, was formed in 1990 and over the years, it has carried out multiple attacks targeting Indian security personnel.
- There are now two factions of the UNLF and jointly, government estimates place the number of cadres at 400-500. Its area of operation includes all the valley areas of Manipur, as well as some villages in the Kuki-Zomi hill districts.
- A proscribed group, banned under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, it has largely been functioning from camps and training bases in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region, Chin state, and Rakhine state with the patronage of the Myanmar military.
- However, it is now on the backfoot there, with mounting attacks against the military junta by various Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) and People’s Defence Forces (PDFs).
- While the UNLF has weakened over the years, pushed across the border to Myanmar, there have been concerns about its increased activity, along with other VBIGs, during the course of the ongoing ethnic conflict in Manipur. The two UNLF factions are believed to have trained around 500 new recruits in the past months.
What about the other groups?
- While the UNLF is the oldest of such groups, several other Meitei insurgent groups have come into being in subsequent years. The UNLF is one of the seven “Meitei Extremist Organisations” banned by the Union government.