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SS Khaplang, chairman of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), who died on Friday, was one of the most powerful rebel leaders in the northeast and Upper Myanmar region, who could establish his own territory fighting against both Myanmarese and Indi an armies.
Popularly called `Baba', Khaplang could successfully rule his remote Naga-inhabited area in Upper Myanmar known as `Eastern Nagaland' battling poverty, illiteracy, malaria and backward ness. A Hemi Naga from Myanmar, Khaplang was the most popular rebel leader in `western southeast Asia' after the late Brang Seng, chairman of Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).
Called a `warlord' by many in the jun gles of Upper Myanmar, Khaplang gave shelter to militants of various rebel outfits from the northeast in his area which is covered by thick forests and is very remote. This made it impossible for the security forces to get hold of rebels holed up there. Now that he is no more, northeast militant groups have to be on their guard and keep a close watch on how the new NSCN(K) leadership takes forward his legacy .
“Various NE militant out fits have their camps in Kha fits have their camps in Khaplang's area and get military training there. We know he was ill for a long time and the coordination among different groups was done by his top commanders. We have to see life after Khaplang in Upper Myanmar jungles as he was a father figure to all rebels,“ said a reformed militant in Imphal.
In 2015, Khaplang launched the United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW) along with Ulfa (I), NDFB(S), KLO and NSCN (K). It was an attempt to bring together smaller ethnic insurgent outfits under one umbrella. The UNLFW, along with Meitei militants, had carried out a deadly attack in Manipur's Chandel district in June 2015, killing 18 army jawans.
The UNLFW also has close links with Manipur's CorCom a committee of six Meitei rebel outfits.
MC Arun, a professor of anthropology in Manipur University , said it is a test of time for many NE rebel groups. He said the future of NE insurgency will depend on the political alignment that may come with the new leadership of NSCN(K).
Recalling Khaplang's charisma, surrendered Ulfa leader Kalpa Jyoti Neog said, “I met him in the 80s when he maintained very friendly relations with Ulfa cadres. We played games together and also went inside villages.Many villagers liked him more than the cadres.“ Neog also talked about the close rapport between Ulfa(I) chief Paresh Baruah and Khaplang.
A former militant of People's Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur said the cadres of the outfit started visiting the Kachin province in Myanmar, which was under the control of Brang Seng of KIO, after the arrest of PLA leader N Bisheshwar Singh in 1981.