United Minority Liberation Army (UMLA) – one of the feared insurgent groups in India’s north east regions has finally decided to speak out. In its first ever media interview given to a small community media organization called Video Volunteers, UMLA has said that it took up arms only to ‘survive’ and ‘safeguard’ its identity.
The North East region of India is bordered by Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh and China and where dozens of tribal groups are fighting for independence from India, with whom they share very weak cultural ties. United Minority Liberation Army (UMLA), an armed insurgent group fighting for a separate state for the Kuki people in Manipur, North East India. The story was reported by Daniel Mate, a community correspondent trained by Video Volunteers.
The leader of the insurgent group agreed to the interview only after he learnt that Daniel was himself a member of the same tribe, called the Kuki tribe.
“It’s the first time ever that this group has spoken to the media. They chose me because they trusted me. As a member of the same tribe, I understand what he is fighting for – a separate state just for the Kuki people within India. We are a minority tribe and we frequently face ethnic violence from other groups who deny our rights to the land and natural resources of our state…They said that I would present their views without any prejudice. Their commander agreed to see me and so I was invited to visit their camp and interview him.”
In this exclusive interview, the UMLA leader Commander K Khaling tells on camera his outfit’s goals, visions and strategies. The UMLA is one of the 17 armed member groups of the Kuki National Organization – an umbrella organization leading an armed struggle against Manipur government for a separate state within the Indian constitution. The group says that it uses gun only as a tool of self defense and to save its own identity. The groups claims that it faces frequent armed attacks from pro-government forces and other insurgent groups that oppose a state for Kuki people.
It is not known where Khaling lives today and, for his personal security reasons, he wants to keep it that way. For the interview, Mate had to spend 2 days in the rebel camp at a secret location. Mate not only met the Commander of the group, but also several other members of the outfit – both armed and without arms – and shoot their activities.
The UMLA, alongside other Kuki militant groups, has recently signed a tripartite suspension of armed operations with the state government and the Centre. The militants are now pressing for a political dialogue with New Delhi over its demand for the statehood. Khaling is regarded as a critical force for making the talks a success.