07/02/2017 4:49 PM IST | Updated 07/02/2017 9:20 PM IST

United Naga Council To Continue Economic Blockade, Demands Release Of Its Leaders

"Land and its people are non-negotiable."

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Indian pedestrians walk past temporary roadblocks on the outskirts of Imphal on December 20, 2016, during an ongoing economic blockade led by Naga militant groups in the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur.

(UPDATE: This copy has been updated with a statement from the Manipur government.)

The United Naga Council (UNC) will continue its economic blockade in Manipur, its representatives told HuffPost India on Tuesday, days after a tripartite talk with the state government and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

"After reviewing the outcome of tripartite talk and considering all possible aspects, today's UNC meeting decided to continue the economic blockade," a representative of the UNC informed HuffPost India.

Calling its arrested leaders "political prisoners"--council president Gaidon Kamei and publicity secretary Stephen Lamkang--the UNC demanded their unconditional release.

"Land and its people are non-negotiable," said the UNC representative, adding that it wanted to hold another round of tripartite talks on 25 March.

ALSO READ: A Drive Through Manipur's Fraught Highways, Into The Grievances Behind The Crippling Blockade

The UNC leaders claimed that the Manipur state government had, while discussing the creation of seven new districts in Manipur, "pleaded its helplessness" in making any changes during the first round of tripartite talks that took place on 3 February. The government had reportedly told the UNC that since the model code of conduct was in place in Manipur--which goes on polls on 4 & 8 March--it could not make any decisions on the new districts. The UNC has demanded the rollback of these new districts.

Sources privy to the discussions between the government and the Naga leaders told HuffPost India that the UNC leaders were considering temporarily suspending the blockade but changed their mind after Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi told journalists that the issue of creation of the new districts was never discussed in the tripartite talks and that the UNC had decided to call off the blockade.

The UNC's presidential council on Tuesday alleged that the election code of conduct does not limit the central or state government "from intervening and fulfilling their constitutional obligation to safeguard and protect land of the tribal as enshrined in the constitution."

"We resolved to continue to fight against the insidious design of grabbing our land on the pretext of administrative convenience," UNC's general secretary Milan S told HuffPost India following the Naga group's meeting on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the CM Ibobi claimed that the state government had signed an agreement with the MHA and the UNC on 3 February deciding to take up the issue of the new districts in the next tripartite meeting for "administrative decisions". In a press statement, the chief minister alleged that the UNC had decided to go ahead with the blockade "without respecting the agreement".

"Keeping in view of the sufferings of the people living in both valley and hills, the State Government again appeals to the United Naga Council to reconsider their decision and withdraw the economic blockade immediately," said CM Ibobi in his statement.

The economic blockade in Manipur is now on its 99th day. It started on 1 November after CM Ibobi announced the creation of seven new districts in Manipur--five of which were earlier part of the hill districts that the Nagas claim as their ancestral land--and has caused crippling shortage of essential goods in the state.

Meanwhile, the two UNC leaders who were arrested on 25 November continue to be in custody. They were reportedly remanded to two additional weeks of custody after being produced at the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate in Imphal East on Tuesday.

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