Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Mizoram: Profile - Bru National Liberation Front

[Areas in which BNLF cadres are active include parts of Mizoram, Tripura and Assam. The areas where the outfit has carried out major attacks include the Mamit and Lunglei districts of Mizoram, the Hailakandi district of Assam and Kanchanpur sub-division of North Tripura district. The BNLF is also known to be operating in the dense forests along the Mizoram-Tripura border. Besides, its hideouts are located in the Bhuban Hills of Cachar district in Assam. ]

Bru National Liberation Front


Formation

The Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) is an armed outfit of the Reangs and is currently engaged in negotiations with Mizoram government.

It was formed in 1997 following violent clashes between ethnic Mizos and Reang tribesmen in the Mamith sub-division of Mizoram State. The immediate cause of the conflict was the demand for an Autonomous District Council (ADC) by the Bru National Union (BNU), a political organisation of Reangs that was formed in year 1994. The BNU anchored its demand in the presence of a majority of Reangs in the sub-division, and declared that their rights––political, economic and cultural among others––were not justifiably protected under the prevailing political arrangement.

The Reang Democratic Convention Party (RDCP), another Reang organisation, passed a resolution in this regard. This reportedly provoked Mizo organisations like Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and Young Mizo Association (YMA)––fearing geographical division of Mizoram––to organise violent attacks, in October 1997, on Reang settlements. As a result, approximately 32,000 Reangs were displaced in the conflict and have since been staying in refugee camps in the Kanchanpur sub-division of the neighbouring Tripura State. The outfit’s cadre strength is estimated to be a little over 100.

Aims & Objectives

The outfit proclaims its primary objective as the protection of rights and dignity of Reangs. The demands put forth by BNLF and its pattern of behaviour exhibit its other aims and objectives as well. BNLF also endeavours to protect the religious identity of Reangs, which it claims to be Hinduism. This is manifested in its vehement opposition to the alleged imposition of Christianity on Reangs. It has also demanded a separate Reang homeland in Mizoram. Subsequently, it transformed its stand and aimed to achieve a separate ADC, and reservation in the Mizoram Legislative Assembly for the community. Besides, it has also taken up with the Mizoram government the issue of repatriation of Reang refugees who had been displaced during the October 1997 ethnic clashes. Only recently, it has agreed to tone down its demand for an ADC and settle for a regional council.

Leadership

Surajmani Reang and Hmunsiama are 'president' and ‘deputy commander’ respectively of the outfit. Both had managed to escape from the clutches of National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) terrorists, who were holding them captive, in January 2001. Thang Masha is another important leader of the outfit. Other leaders of the outfit include A Joseph, ‘advisor’, Solomon Prophul, ‘general secretary’ and S. Bru, the ‘organising secretary’.

The BNLF suffered its worst reverse when the then ‘general secretary’, Hambai Mshoy, and the then ‘army chief’, Sheing Molshoy, were killed in an internecine clash with the NLFT on July 9, 2000, at a camp in Bangladesh.

Area of Operation & Operational Strategy

Areas in which BNLF cadres are active include parts of Mizoram, Tripura and Assam. The areas where the outfit has carried out major attacks include the Mamit and Lunglei districts of Mizoram, the Hailakandi district of Assam and Kanchanpur sub-division of North Tripura district. The BNLF is also known to be operating in the dense forests along the Mizoram-Tripura border. Besides, its hideouts are located in the Bhuban Hills of Cachar district in Assam.

The outfit is involved in selective abduction for ransom, which is a major source of finance for the terrorist group. In this, non-Reangs and Mizo Christians are the primary targets. Besides, the BNLF is also involved in violent attacks not only against non-Reangs, but also against security force personnel. The outfit was also engaged in internecine clashes with other terrorist outfits in the Northeast, like the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT). Furthermore, its cadres carry out attacks with modern weapons like AK series assault rifles, grenades and bombs, and are well trained.

The BNLF uses both conventional and guerrilla tactics in its attacks.

Linkages

BNLF has both inter-organisational as well as external linkages, which it uses to procure arms and train cadres. Among its external linkages, Bangladesh is prominent. Its cadres reportedly run camps and use Bangladeshi soil, particularly the jungles along the international border with India, to house hideouts. This was indicated by Church leaders, who mediated with top BNLF leaders at their hideouts in May 2000 for the release of two Mizoram government employees. The same was stated as early as in 1998 by the then Mizoram Chief Minister, Lalthanhawla. BNLF cadres who had survived the July 2000 internecine clashes with NLFT also confessed that they had hideouts in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

In the sphere of establishing and maintaining linkages with other terrorist outfits operating in the Northeast, the BNLF had very close links with the NLFT. It had even signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU), which stipulated, inter alia, that the NLFT would provide arms, ammunition and all every logistic support to the BNLF. Thus, the NLFT helped BNLF grow and gain in strength. This linkage was soured because of the BNLF’s alleged pro-India tilt, its contacts with Indian security forces and for abducting and killing Christian employees and police personnel of Mizoram. Eventually, it culminated in a bloody conflict in which approximately 75 BNLF cadres were killed by NLFT terrorists in a raid on a BNLF camp in Bangladesh. The then president and general secretary of BNLF were also taken hostage, but have now escaped from their captors and have since then surrendered to Indian security forces, as already mentioned. Another bloody conflict occurred between the two outfits on September 3, 2000. 14 BNLF and 10 NLFT cadres were reportedly killed at a Bangladeshi hideout of the NLFT where it had invited BNLF to negotiate the release of their president and general secretary. Following these incidents, the BNLF-NLFT connection ended.

After its NLFT linkage turned sour, the BNLF came into contact with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM), which obliged the outfit by providing an unspecified number of AK 47 rifles and ammunition. Besides, the BNLF has also maintained contacts with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). This had also been revealed by then Chief Minister of Mizoram, Lalthanhawla, in 1998.

Current Situation

Since September 7, 2001, the BNLF has been engaged in a series of negotiations with the Mizoram Government. However, a solution has not been arrived at even after 11 rounds of negotiations. The 12th round talks, which were to be held in the capital Aizawl on April 29, 2004, were postponed by the State Government citing an ‘unhealthy political atmosphere’ prevailing in Mizoram. In fact, various political parties and community-based organisations have put up a stiff opposition to any sort of arrangement with the BNLF. The points of difference between the two sides relate to determining the number of refugees who would be repatriated from Tripura and the structure and nature of the political arrangement that should to be put in place after the returning refugees are rehabilitated.

While the BNLF contends that the number of Reangs awaiting repatriation is more than 32,000, the Mizoram Government holds that it is no more than a little over 10,000. On the kind of political arrangement that should follow, the BNLF has toned down its demand for an autonomous district council and is willing to negotiate for something less, a regional council. The Mizoram Government has refused to grant thus far any separate autonomous governing body for the Reangs. Moreover, it is also not ready to accept the BNLF’s demand that the Union Government should be involved in the ongoing peace talks. The State Government has also demanded that the BNLF cadres should surrender if a lasting solution were to be found and peace restored in the region.

On May 17, 2004, Home Minister, Twanluia, informed the State Legislative Assembly that an accord between the Mizoram Government and BNLF is to be signed in June. Subsequently, on May 26, State Chief Secretary, H. V. Lalringa, informed that the Mizoram Government has endorsed the draft proposals for laying down of arms by the BNLF cadres and repatriation of Bru refugees lodged in the Tripura relief camps. However, there has been no subsequent progress in this front.

South Asia Intelligence Review