Mao Council rejoinder to SAPO: ‘Our silence severely misconstrued’

Senapati, Dec 16: In a rejoinder to the recent press release of Southern Angami People’s Organisation (SAPO) “notifying restriction/prohibition of Mao People in SAPO area, the Mao Council said today that, after the Tenyimi People’s Organisation (TPO) intervened in the present dispute over Dziiko and Koziirii (Kezoltsa for SAPO) in 2015-2016, it was decreed that contending parties should refrain from going to the media to avoid paper war and to ensure conducive environment. The Mao Council said that the press release of the SAPO of December 7, 2022 was the latest of SAPO/SAYO’s several media press statements “freely issued to misrepresent” to the public on the facts and situation of the dispute. It also said that the Mao people in deference to the TPO stricture have refrained from going to the press. “Our silence has been severely misconstrued as seen from postings in social media,” the Mao Council added.

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Therefore, the Mao Council said today that it was constrained to issue this rejoinder to nullify the “distortions and misinformation” propagated in the media after having informed the office of the TPO of the necessity and “our intention” to set the record straight.

According to the Mao Council, in the SAPO press release it has been projected that the Mao and Maram people from Manipur had teamed up against the Southern Angamis of Nagaland. The Mao Council said that this is “blatantly misleading” and the reverse seems obvious. “Maram Khullen is a separate claimant over Koziirii (Dziiko excluded) who came in much later and was admitted by TPO as party to the dispute only in March 2016 and the dispute thereafter became a unprecedented triangular contest. The Brotherhood Affirmation of the Southern Angami Youth Organisation and the Northern Maram Student and Youth Organisation held on 5th December, 2022, covered in both the print and visual media, clearly mentions Koziirii (Kezoltsa) as an issue for their affirmation and speaks clearly of the equations in the triangular situation of the dispute,” the Mao Council statement added.

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The Mao Council also said that the SAPO press release also “speaks about undesirable aggression of the Mao Council with the help of the Government of Manipur”. It also said, “While the Mao Council cannot speak for the Government of Manipur (GOM), it is because of the SAPO/SAYO’s unlawful and provocative activities in Koziirii/Dziiko area that the Manipur Government promulgated 144 CrPC, constructed Police base camp and connecting road in Koziirii area”.

According to the Mao Council, in March, 2021, a big team of TPO/BOA and constituents tribes met the Manipur Chief Minister at Imphal. He expressed his respect for the TPO/BOA and their initiative to settle the dispute peacefully but stated at the same time that it was his responsibility to secure the safety of the public and protect the forest and ecology of the area which had been ravaged by wildfire in December 2020, said the Mao Council. “He also expressed concern about the presence of unlawful and provocative armed elements person in the dispute area and that it was his responsibility to enforce the rule of law in the area within his jurisdiction. The TPO, BOA and the delegates of tribe leaders who participated in the meeting are witnesses of this episode,” the Mao Council added.

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According to the Mao Council, SAPO’s provocative activities on record are many.

One is that the deputy commissioner of Senapati district along with security forces, NDRF, SDRF and local leaders were physically confronted, abused, threatened by SAPO/SAYO when they went to assess the situation for prevention and control of damages caused by the wildfire in January, 2021, according to the Mao Council statement. Another one is that of “threatening the security forces who were stationed there to control and monitor the wild fire”, the Mao Council also said. One of such provocative activities of SAPO is also a case of “abduction and detention” of Mao trekkers and extraction of illegal fines from them. “Carrying and firing of sophisticated arms in Koziirii and Mao Dziiko area and use of the rest house by armed persons roaming in the area within Manipur jurisdiction and total restriction of entry to trekkers and visitor to Dziiko valley from routes other than specified by SAPO/SAYO, although 2/3 of Dziiko valley falls the jurisdiction of Manipur” were also some of the provocative activities of SAPO.

It may, therefore, be understood that the Government of Manipur has been carrying out its duties and responding to the situation as it should and the charge of Mao Council having brought in the Government of Manipur into the land dispute does not have any basis, the Mao Council also said. There were many reports and allegations made by SAPO against Mao Council for violations and so verification were carried out by the TPO/BOA, the statement of Mao Council further said. It added that many of the allegations were found baseless and some issues were resolved, with warnings and even payment of fine for violation of the “arbitration undertaking” where appropriate. “But the SAPO has not complied till date with TPO/BOA’s directive for return of the fines extracted from 7 innocent trekkers in December, 2020 nor any apology for their detention, abduction and handed them over to police custody as if they were criminals,” the Mao Council further added.

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It then said that the “Mao portion of Dziiko” which is only 11.28 sq km with clear boundary marked by natural landmarks while the entire Dziiko valley is more than 55 sq kms spread out between Manipur and Nagaland and falls under Southern Angami, Western Angami, Zeliang and Mao traditional lands. “In terms of location, 2/3 of the total Dziiko area falls under Manipur state,” it also stated.

In 2000, according to the Mao Council, the illegal construction of a SAPO rest house at Chitekayi Ingo, which is well within Mao traditional land brought in Koziirii (Kezoltsa in SAPO), the thick forest adjacent to the Mao Dziiko area as an area of dispute. The Mao Council also said that the SAPO press release does not make mention of Dziiko as an area of dispute and therefore it is understood that they are in agreement with our assertion of ownership over Mao Dziiko, where marker willow trees(Ozii sii) were planted by our ancestors and also where Emei Chikhe (Mao Cave) is located. “For the understanding of the public, it is also pointed out that the Mao traditional land including Mao Dziiko and Koziirii , disputed by SAPO and Maram Khullen (only Koziirii) lies in between the traditional land of SAPO situated in the north and the Maram Khullen traditional land situated in the South,” it added.

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According to the Mao Council, this time around, trekking and related tourism activities were organized as part of the Sangai festival. It further said that trekking to Dziiko valley (Mao portion, which lies in Manipur state) were a part of the festival. It also stated that trekking and clearing of existing footpath for the trekkers is not violative of TPO agreement for the obvious reason that the bounty of nature was for everyone to enjoy and to be blessed with. “But a public statement was issued by SAYO against trekking to Dziiko(Mao portion) with threat of consequences if the trekking was organized,” it alleged.

The Mao Council also said, “True to their words they acted with intimidating gun firing in the vicinity”. It further said that the TPO/BOA is the forum to place any report of violation of the “Arbitration Undertaking” or any act that goes against the spirit of the arbitration process. “It is not for a disputing party to resort to extreme, non-traditional and unacceptable means such as bans over perceived violations by another party to the dispute”, it stated. According to the Mao Council, the TPO has notified the joint meeting of TPO/BOA on December 19, 2022 “vide its circular December 4, 2022” on two agenda one of which was on the verdict/report of the BOA on the land dispute. “Soon after, on December 7, 2022, the SAPO issued a press release on their resolution to ban of Mao people in entering and crossing SAPO area,” it pointed out. “This blatant opposition and disregard to the TPO notification cannot be anything but in the words of the SAPO a direct insult, humiliation and challenge to the hon’ble BOA of the TPO court”. According to the Mao Council, the “overbearing attitude”, and the intent to ride roughshod over the TPO/BOA and it constituent units is being blatantly demonstrated. “Today is the second day of the ban imposed on Mao people on the National highway in view of the whole wide world. It can well be imagined how they would behave and carry themselves up in the forest and in the valley away from the glare and attention of the public,” the Mao Council added.

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The statement then said that the Mao people do not live in isolation and are presently under the state of Manipur. “We have our own issues of injustice and suppression meted out to the tribals, who are under domination of the majority community and whose interest determines the State Government’s policies,” it also said. “But in the environment briefly highlighted above, the Mao people still have the right to roam freely, forage and live off the land in their own traditional land without being threatened, abused and detained by unlawful armed elements roaming the Dziiko and Koziirii area”. It then asked, “And for such crying needs and rights, will the public point their fingers and cry aggression with the help of the Manipur Government?,” it further asked.

The Mao Council then asked, “And with whom should the Mao people promote festivals, tourism and development in our land if not with Manipur Government which has the mandatory responsibility to do so? Will the Assam Government, Nagaland Government or Arunachal Government come forward with such responsibilities ?” The statement said that Mao people cannot be prohibited from living their lives, least of all from taking up any activity “within our own traditional land” that is well between the bounds of law and of the “Arbitration Undertaking”.

As already communicated to the TPO, according to the Mao Council, given the atmosphere that has been severely vitiated by the SAPO statement and the ongoing ban on Mao people, the venue for the Joint meetings scheduled for December 18 and 19, 2022 at Kohima should be changed to a neutral venue which will secure a conducive environment and where tribe delegates would not be subjected to the ignominy of identification, permission and duress of the SAPO while travelling to attend the meeting. “Should the request for change to a neutral venue be refused as strongly called for by the prevailing situation, the Mao Council and its arbitrators will be compelled to abstain from the scheduled meetings,” it cautioned.


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