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Terror kills more in NE than in J&K
Published on 6 Jan. 2009 12:30 AM IST
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The serial blasts in Guwahati on New Year’s Day were a chilling reminder to the country of a forgotten but deadly war being fought in the Brahmaputra valley and the surrounding hills. In the year just gone by, over a thousand persons were killed in terrorist related violence in the seven states of the northeast. The bulk of these deaths occurred in just two states - Assam and Manipur. Assam reported 372 fatalities while the death toll in Manipur was just shy of 500, second only to Kashmir, which recorded 539 deaths. While the country has been preoccupied with Kashmir and escalating terrorist violence elsewhere, separatist violence in northeast has crept up. Data from the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) shows that the total number of deaths in this region has increased from 640 in 2006 to 1057 in 2008. These figures include a steadily increasing number of fatalities among the separatists themselves, but there is a parallel rise in deaths of innocent civilians as the terrorists take recourse to bombings like the one in Guwahati on Thursday. The number of terrorists killed has increased from 317 in 2006 to 501 in 2007 and further to 612 in 2008. But the civilian death toll too has mounted from 231 in 2006 to 405 in 2008. Casualties among security forces operating in the region have declined drastically from 92 in 2006 to 40 in 2008. An estimated 2 lakh persons are reported to be internally displaced due to ethnic strife. Northeast is no stranger to insurgencies with all its seven states having witnessed some form of armed separatism over the last six decades. In the 15 years since 1994, an estimated 16,271 persons have been killed in this volatile region. A combination of persistent economic backwardness and the presence of several dozen ethnic groups has made this region a crucible of identity politics. Nearly 20% of the 50 million people of the region are below the poverty line. Of the 635 tribal groups identified by the Anthropological Survey of India, 213 reside in the northeast. Some states have a very low or passive level of separatist activity like Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. In Mizoram, the insurgency ended in 1986 after the accord between the Union government and the Mizo National Front led by Laldenga. Meghalaya too has a relatively lower and declining level of terrorist activity although a number of separatist groups are active in extortion and other criminal activities. Tripura, which till a decade back was a hotbed of terrorist actions, appears to have overcome the menace through a determined political effort. But in three states - Assam, Manipur and Nagaland - separatist violence continues with an incendiary mix of ethnic strife. While terrorist actions in Assam still get attention, Manipur, with the second highest number of terrorist related deaths after Kashmir, has remained below the national radar. All 59 police stations in the state have reported terrorist activities, and 32 of them have been placed in the high violence category. SATP estimates that there are at least 15 major militant groups with approximately 10,000 cadre active in the state. The desperate situation is highlighted by the fact that Manipur continues to remain classified as a disturbed area since the 1970s. It has a higher police-to-population ratio than the national average and yet there is no end to violence. Assam, the biggest state in the northeast, has been the hunting ground of Ulfa despite several army operations against it, including the 2005 sweep in sanctuaries in the Bhutanese foothills. Decades of Ulfa violence has spawned rival outfits from amongst plains tribals and Muslims, leading to an ever escalating spiral of violence on innocent civilians of every community. Current estimates put active terrorist groups at 12, while inactive groups number over 20. Recent reports suggest that Ulfa has also tied up with some factions of Naga separatist groups, operating in Nagaland and Manipur.

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