Three personnel from 4 Assam Rifles unit were killed and four others were injured in an ambush by terrorists from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Manipur, sources said.
The terrorists carried out an IED blast and then fired at the troops in the state’s Chandel district, near the border with Myanmar, which is about 100 km from Imphal.
The soldiers killed have been identified as Havildar Pranay Kalita, Rifleman Ratan Salam and Rifleman Methna Konyak.
Manipur has been home to insurgency for several decades now due to terrorist organisations which target the Indian security forces and even the common public. Since the state borders Myanmar, many groups operate from the neighbouring country, making it tough to track and control.
One of the largest and most dangerous terror outfits in Manipur is the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which has been associated with the recent IED blast.
What Is the PLA?
The PLA was established by N Bisheshwar Singh on 25 September 1978 in an attempt to liberate Manipur, to make it a separate independent socialist state. He had split from United National Liberation Front (UNLF) to form this group.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), which maintains a comprehensive list of insurgent outfits operating in India, the group, dominated by the Meitei tribe, has been trying to form a revolutionary front covering the entire northeast region, so as to unite all ethnic groups, including the Nagas and Kukis.
The death of some of its top leaders in combat, including its president Thoudam Kunjabehari in 1982, and the arrest of Bisheshwar in 1981 slowed down their activity in the 1980s.
They’ve been in constant combat with the Indian army, and it was during the late nineties that they decided not to target the Manipur police.
When Did PLA Try to Enter Politics?
As a viable alternative to the existing political parties, the PLA in 1989 formed a political body called the Revolutionary People's Front (RPF).
The RPF runs a government-in-exile in Bangladesh, as per the SATP. PLA has set up a number of bases in the Sylhet district of Bangladesh as well.
How Has PLA Restructured Itself Over the Years?
Over the years, due to the action taken by the Indian government, PLA has reorganised their outfit to serve as an armed militia. Post restructuring, the organisation has been very active.
It now has four divisions, namely Sadar Hill West areas of the Valley of Manipur, Sadar Hill areas in the eastern Valley, the entire hill areas in Manipur and the entire Imphal area. Each division has a commander, lieutenants, sergeant and lance corporals in its ranks, equipped with arms.
Irengbam Chaoren is the 'president' of the RPF and there are designated persons as vice-president, secretaries in charge of home, finance, foreign affairs, publicity and communication, social welfare, health and education.
The organisation has an estimated strength of 3,800, as of 2008.
PLA is also a member of the Manipur People's Liberation Front, an umbrella organisation of three separatist organisation of Manipur.
The China Connect
Decades ago, a squad of 18 functionaries joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Manipur. They had all been trained in Chinese-occupied Tibet, according to veteran journalist Rajeev Bhattacharya.
“In the early 1980s, it was believed that PLA’s training modules and supply of weapons were stopped following India lodging complaints and Beijing’s policy shift after the death of Chairman Mao Zedong. Later, a research by Bertil Lintner, revealed that China used the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Myanmar to train some batches of the Manipur PLA in the 1980s. Only following a pact with India’s external intelligence wing Research & The Analysis Wing (R&AW), did KIA commit to cutting off ties with all militant outfits in the country, in return for weapons.”Rajeev Bhattacharyya
Intervention by the Indian Army
One of the most successful efforts by the Indian Army in its ‘seek and apprehend’ operations has been the raid of the PLA camp at Choru in the eastern Manipur district in 1980.
The army located the insurgents, which was followed by a heavy exchange of fire and continuous surprise raids. The villages in and around Imphal and Manipur have been under constant vigil by the army as the group draws most of their support from this region.
In the last many years, the army has detained and arrested several leaders and active members associated with the PLA.
What Is the Latest We Know About Them?
While personnel of the PLA had a role in connecting rebel groups with the Chinese and also delivering weapons, the latest trend observed is that the supply is diminishing.
Most rebel groups have worked out a settlement with the government or political parties. As on date, PLA has two camps in Myanmar and five camps in Bangladesh, where about 1,000 recruits have received arms training, according to SATP.