The militant group, which has waged a guerrilla war in Manipur since the 1960s, has signed a peace agreement with New Delhi UNLF, the oldest valley-based armed group of Manipur state in Northeast India has signed a peace agreement in New Delhi © X / @AmitShah

The oldest militant group operating in the valley region of Manipur state in India’s northeast has signed a peace agreement with the federal government, ending a deadly ethnic conflict that has lasted since May and displaced millions of people.

The Indian government announced on Wednesday that the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) has signed a truce with both New Delhi and the government of Manipur state.

The development was announced by India’s Home Minister Amit Shah, who hailed it as a “historic milestone” on X (formerly Twitter). “I welcome [the UNLF] to the democratic processes and wish them all the best in their journey on the path of peace and progress,” he added in the same post.

The development assumes special significance, as it is the first time that a valley-based armed group from Manipur has agreed to seek reconciliation by “abjuring violence and agreeing to honor the Constitution of India.” The UNLF are from the Meitei ethnic group, one of the two which were fighting the national government in the region.

The move comes days after the government issued a five-year extension of a ban on the UNLF and several other organizations operating in the state, designating them “unlawful associations” under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Formed in 1964 to establish an “independent, sovereign Manipur,” the UNLF has waged a guerrilla war against federal and state forces for decades. The group sought to form an alliance with China and also reclaim the Kabow Valley in Myanmar, which shares a border with India. It had its bases in the Chin and Rakhine states in Myanmar as well as in some parts of Bangladesh.

According to media reports, the UNLF only has around 400-500 members and a similar number of firearms.

The development comes against the backdrop of a violent ethnic conflict affecting Manipur’s two largest local ethnic groups: the Meitei people, who live in the Imphal Valley, and the Kuki tribal community from the surrounding hills. The violence first broke out following a Kuki-led ‘tribal solidarity march’ on May 3, organized to protest against Meitei demands for special status under India’s constitution.

According to a report in The Print, UNLF groups had returned to the state from the group’s bases outside Manipur and become “active” in the local conflict. Meanwhile, other militant groups also appear willing to be a part of peace discussions, The Print noted.

As many as 25 Kuki-led insurgent groups based in the hill areas of Manipur are subject to a tripartite ceasefire agreement with the Government of India and Manipur, which was signed back in 2008. (RT)