A cadre of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) stands guard at a camp near Amarpur in Tinsukia district, 600 kilometers from Guwahati, the capital city of India's northeastern state of Assam. Photo: AFP

Peace may be within reach in India’s restive northeastern states, where various ethnic insurgent groups have been active since the 1950s. According to a report published on the Indian website South Asia Terrorism Portal on May 7, seven militant Naga groups are likely to sign an accord with the government “before the upcoming monsoon season of Parliament scheduled to begin in July.”

In Assam, the most populous of the northeastern states, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) may sign a similar accord, the First Post reported on May 6. The problem is that the insurgents from India’s northeast who are still actively fighting are based across the border in remote areas of northwestern Myanmar. They are not taking part in the peace talks and have shown no interest in doing so.

The Naga groups have had ceasefire agreements with the government for years, and the ULFA leaders who are negotiating with the authorities were initially rounded up in Bangladesh in 2010, and then extradited to India. After a short spell in arrest, they entered into talks with the government. The groups based in Myanmar number in the hundreds, are relatively well armed and are united under the rather curious name the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia — emphasizing what they claim to be an ethnic affinity with the peoples of Southeast Asia rather than the subcontinent.

The front includes militants from Assam, Nagaland and Manipur in India, and the Naga Hills of Myanmar. Their headquarters is located at Taga north of Hkamti in Myanmar, where they appear to have some kind of understanding with nearby Myanmar army outposts.

Several of their leaders and activists spend most of their time in Ruili in western Yunnan, China, from where they are also getting some supplies, possibly including weapons. While the Myanmar army is too preoccupied by fighting its own insurgencies to be bothered about India’s, China finds them useful for intelligence purposes. So even if accords are signed and celebrations held, we have not seen the last of insurgency in India’s northeast.

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