IMPHAL, October 27: In a landmark peace initiative, 43 cadres of the United Tribal Liberation Army (UTLA) including the political wing and armed wing formally return to the mainstream during a home coming ceremony.
The homecoming ceremony organized by Red Shield Division was held at the Banquet Hall of the 1st Battalion of Manipur Rifles today. The function was attended by Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, DGP Y Joykumar,and Major General Binoy Poonnen,GOC 57 Mountain Division.
The Chief Minister in his speech appreciated the decision of the UTLA cadres to join the mainstream and to endeavor towards a life of peace and prosperity. He assured that the state government will do its best to provide for the needs and demands of the cadres. He also appealed to the cadres to adhere to the SoO ground rules and co-operate with the government while stating that there has been instances of certain groups who are presently in Suspension of Operation with the government but still carries out illegal acts of extortion and terrorizing the public.
DGP Y Joykumar also stated that the UTLA cadres joining the mainstream will be pivotal in bringing about peace and development along the Bangai range of Tamenglong district. Various hiccups faced by the state administration along the route including the construction of the Jiri-Tupul railhead will be able to advance peacefully. He also announced that the home department will operate a mechanized country made boat for effective police patrol in the waters of the area to check insurgency.
President of UTLA, Seipu alias Ishael in his address mentioned that the decision of the cadres to return to the mainstream was following in the footsteps of the other Kuki militant outfits that are demanding an independent land and are presently in talks with the government. “ We have come to this decision as we felt that we have been left on our own to struggle for our united demand and have felt that the effective way to rally for our demands will be through conducting talks with the government”, he said.
It may be mentioned that United Tribal Liberation Army (UTLA) was raised by James in 2003. However, at a later date after the death of James, the outfit was split into two factions called UTLA and UTLA (Max). UTLA (Max) over the period of time got neutralized and as of now majority of them are in jail. Due to leadership crisis and differences, president of UTLA Isheal and general secretary Seizahaou T Singsit ,along with 45 armed cadres were motivated to join the mainstream. On September 8, the two leaders announced formally to join the Suspension of Operation (SoO).
This is by far amongst the largest number of constituents of one single underground organization to suspend operation and join the national mainstream in recent times. The antecedents of the cadres have already been verified by the group members and village chiefs from the areas that they hail from. The others would follow suit shortly for which, a repeat ceremony will be held at Leimakhong, the army in a release added.
It further stated that, Robert and SK Thadou of UTLA were also approached, however they have not yet joined the peace initiative and have requested for more time, since cadres are dispersed over large distance and in some cases, beyond the state boundaries.
The home coming ceremony was orchestrated by 27 Sector AR under the aegis of Red Shield Division. The Army and Assam Rifles have welcomed the initiative of the cadres. A huge cache of arms and ammunition of the UTLA cadres were also displayed at the ceremony. Along with three members of the political wing, one major, one lieutenant, two sergeants, one sgt major, four corporal, four lance corporal and twenty seven privates gathered at the home coming occasion.