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Manipur PLA Behind Assam Rifles Ambush


Manipur’s most dreaded rebel group , Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has owned responsibility for Saturday’s ambush at the state’s Churachandpur district in which five soldiers , including a full colonel, and two civilians , were killed.
A PLA statement on Saturday night said their fighters,  alongwith those from Manipur Naga People’s Front, pulled off the deadly ambush .
It was classic PLA style attack, reflecting the trademark Chinese training many of their top leaders had undergone — an IED explosion ripping apart the lead vehicle of the convoy and opening up the Commanding Officers vehicle following next to a deadly field of fire laid by bursts of light machine guns and well directed shots from sniper Rifles.
The PLA , the armed wing of the Revolutionary Peoples Front , was formed on 25 September 1978, by Nameirakpam Bisheswar Singh and he led a group of seventeen ‘Ojhas’ (pioneers) to China for training in guerrilla warfare .  Bisheswar later returned to normal life and fought elections before he was murdered .
The PLA, almost wholly made up of the state’s dominant Hindu Meiteis,  specialised in urban insurgency and its violent actions were largely restricted to the Imphal Valley.
But Manipur state intelligence officials told this writer the PLA has in recent years worked out tactical understanding with small tribal groups in the state’s Naga and Kuki dominant areas to expand its strike range to border regions of Myanmar.
Behiang , the scene of Saturday’s ambush , in which the Commanding Officer (CO) of 46th Assam Rifles battalion Colonel Viplab Tripathi was killed with four soldiers , his wife and son, was located in Singhat subdivision, which has emerged as a PLA stronghold in recent years.  
This was easily the bloodiest attack on security forces in India’s troubled Northeast so far this year.
Until recently , the PLA led by its armed wing chief Praveen Sharma alias MM Ngouba , ran a full-fledged training base in Singhat which had to be closed down due to sustained Assam Rifles counter-insurgency operations during the monsoon. Sharma is now RPF’s vice-president, the second most important leader after chairman Irengbam Chaoren.
Behiang also sits atop a lucrative contraband route through which weapons and narcotics are smuggled into Manipur and neighbouring Mizoram.
“Saturday’s ambush of the Assam Rifles convoy was possibly to get even and force the soldiers to cut down on extensive patrolling and area domination operations . Once the Assam Rifles can be confined to the camps , the PLA can dominate the rural countryside and run their bases ,” said a senior Manipur intelligence  official but on condition of  anonymity. 
The attack also signals rejection of offers to open negotiations made to all rebel groups in the state by the BJP led government of Chief Minister N Biren Singh. 
The PLA , which sees Manipur’s liberation as part of an overall peoples revolution in India, has close links with the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and other rebel groups in India’s Northeast including the ULFA (Independent) in Assam and a less known Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF).  
These three groups claimed responsibility for an attack on Assam Rifles in Manipur last year that led to the death of three soldiers.
According to terrorism watchers such as the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), PLA-Manipur insurgents have received training from the Chinese PLA.
In 2009, a PLA militant identified as Sergeant Ronny had told his interrogators: “China’s People’s Liberation Army remains in contact with Manipur’s PLA. Sixteen platoons of militants have come back to Manipur after getting trained in China.” A rebel PLA platoon is about 20 soldiers each.
Ronny, an agriculture graduate from Pantnagar (Uttarkhand) before he joined PLA,  had been arrested in August 2009 in a joint operation by the Manipur police and Indian Army. 
He had revealed the Chinese army was training young recruits of Manipur PLA and had advised them to share instructors with the Indian Maoists. 
“The training of PLA militants also goes on continuously in Burma [now called Myanmar]. There are many temporary camps in Manipur as well, such as Soibolkuki and Singhat. We train with big guns,” said Ronny in his confession.
Indian intelligence agencies had got phone call recordings in 2015 – just around Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China. In the purported telephonic conversation, a Chinese PLA official inquired about the health of the NSCN-K leader telling him to learn Mandarin. The Chinese had then refuted any such link.
China has officially maintained silence but after the 2015 terror attack, the Chinese communist party mouthpiece, Global Times denied links between the Chinese PLA and the PLA-Manipur. This denial came despite confession by PLA ‘s “Sergeant” Ronny about the Chinese military providing training to the group.
Whether China provides weapons and training to PLA or not, there is no doubt a spurt in rebel activities in Northeast would put the Indian army under pressure at a time when it is seeking maximum possible deployment of forces on the LAC.

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