Agartala: The Indian Army is confident of handling any fresh violence unleashed by a Naga separatist faction operating from its bases in Myanmar, but will deal with the rebel challenge "very differently" this time, a top commander has said.
Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat, commanding the Indian Army's Kohima-based 3 Corps that is responsible for counter-insurgency operations in Nagaland and other northeastern states, said that the faction headed by Myanmarese Naga rebel leader SS Khaplang can't do very much because it lacks popular support.
"In Nagaland, the people have got used to the peace dividend for the last 17 years. They don't like resumption of rebel violence because that will mean military operations again which affects their normal lives. So Khaplang stands isolated," Lt Gen Rawat told a news agency.
He admitted that Khaplang is sheltering Assamese, Bodo, and Manipuri rebel factions at his base area in Myanmar's Sagaing province.
"Other Naga rebel factions and political groups have no stomach for fresh violence, as they have got used to peace. So they are determined to keep his fighters out of Nagaland," Lt Gen Rawat said.
Khaplang had earlier alleged that Indian intelligence is using other Naga rebel factions in India to block his fighters because these factions have given up the demand for Naga independence.
Lt Gen Rawat said the Indian Army will handle the fresh rebel challenge in northeast "very differently".
"We have built up a people-friendly image over the last 17 years of ceasefire in Nagaland and other parts of the northeast. When Khaplang's fighters ambushed and killed eight of our troops in Mon district recently, we restrained our troops and there was no backlash. The locals saw us as a responsible force and now they are joining up to resist Khaplang because they blame him for breaking the ceasefire," Lt Gen Rawat said.
When asked about the formation of a united rebel platform UNLFW, Lt Gen Rawat saw a 'foreign hand' in it. But he was unwilling to identify which of India's neighbours could have been responsible for getting the disparate rebel groups to unite.
Intelligence officials have said earlier they suspect Chinese involvement in orchestrating the formation of a rebel platform.
Lt Gen Rawat said the people in the northeast are "fed-up" with the systematic extortion by rebel groups.
"This has made the rebels really unpopular. How long can people pay so-called taxes to so many groups? In days to come, they will react strongly," he said.