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Naga peace talks, a Thai gun-runner and the curious case of Anthony Shimray

Bharat Bhushan | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 12:34 IST
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The arrest

  • NIA has extradited Willy Naru, a Thai national accused of smuggling arms for NSCN(IM)
  • This is curious as the government is having peace talks with NSCN(IM)

The prisoner

  • NIA has accused Anthony Shimray of being the main arms procurer for NSCN(IM)
  • He has been in jail since 2010. Shimray and Naru are the only 2 arrests in this case

More in the story

  • What makes the arrest suspicious?
  • Can it have an impact on the peace talks?

At a time when the Indian government is tying up the details of a peace agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), there has been a new twist in the tale with the arrival of a Thai gun-runner for trial in India.

It would seem that while the government is very keen on a Naga settlement, it is equally enthusiastic about trying some Naga leaders in a case of non-existent arms import to India.

It is a case of conspiring to wage a war against India but is not in violation of the cease-fire agreement between India and the NSCN (IM).

What then is the case and where does it stand?

On 8 December, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) brought back to India an alleged gun runner from Thailand, Willy Naru or Wuthikorn Naruenartwanich, to be questioned and tried under Indian law.

He is accused of being a middleman for arms and ammunition that the NSCN (IM) was trying to smuggle into India from China.

Read- Naga deal decoded: this could end India's longest insurgency

For this, an advance of US $800,000 had already been paid by the outfit's 'Chief Arms Procurer' Ningkhan Shimrey aka Anthony Shimray/Anthony Shing/ Anthony Sheing /Sir Khan.

Willy has been charged in India - along with Anthony Shimray and two others - with conspiracy and collecting arms to wage war against India. He has also been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 to prevent challenging the proceedings against him in any other court unless as provided under the Act itself.

Willy, 58, was arrested on the request of the NIA in Bangkok on 30 August, 2013, on the basis of an Interpol Red Corner Notice and has now been finally extradited to India.

After interrogations, he will probably join Anthony Shimray, currently lodged in Delhi's Tihar Jail. Anthony is a 'Major General' of the Naga underground army. He was part of the NSCN (IM) delegation for peace talks with India and participated in several rounds of negotiations.

Those who ordered and funded the arms purchase are 'innocent' but Anthony Shimray is in jail. Why?

However, on 27 September 2010, when he got down at Kathmandu from Nepal Airlines flight RA402 from Bangkok to change planes for Delhi, he was kidnapped after immigration clearance.

For the next 5 days, Anthony was incommunicado. On 3 October 2010, he was produced in a court in Delhi by the NIA which claimed that he had been "arrested" from Patna in Bihar.

The NIA told the court that Anthony Shimray was the chief procurer of arms for the NSCN (IM) and was involved in a "conspiracy to procure a huge consignment of arms and ammunition from foreign countries to be used for committing activities to wage war against the Government of India".

On 26 March, 2011, the NIA filed a charge-sheet against Shimray and three others in the NIA Special Court in New Delhi.

The others who were charged along with him were TR Calvin, a lieutenant in the NSCN (IM), the organisation's 'Defence Minister' and its 'Army Chief', Hangshi Ramson Tangkhul, and a Thai businessman W Naruennartwanich aka Willy Naru.

Of the 4 accused, 2 - Calvin and Hangshi - are absconding while Anthony and, now, Willy Naru, are in custody.

The case against Anthony is currently before a Special NIA court. The press is not allowed to report on its proceedings and "protected" witnesses appear before the judge in curtained witness stands so that no one can see them.

According to the NIA, the conspirators had fixed an arms purchase deal of US $ 1.2 million (one million US dollars for the cost of arms and ammunitions and US $ 200,000 for transshipment of the consignment) in 2007.

In May 2009, Anthony paid US $100,000 to the Thai businessman and middleman, Willy Naru, which was then sent by him to the Chinese arms supplying company, TCL International.

Also read: The govt may clinch a Naga deal. But are all Nagas with it?

The evidence of the payment was in an electronic receipt on the letterhead of TCL International which Willy forwarded by email to Shimray. US $200,000 were paid to a shipping agent, Kittichai Rimkeeratikul in Bangkok for the shipment of the consignment.

The consignment was to be loaded from Beihei, a South Chinese port to be delivered at Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The evidence of these payments was found in the email correspondence of Shimray. All the relevant emails used as evidence were procured from service providers like Yahoo Inc, Google Inc, and Microsoft, USA and verified by cyber forensic experts in India.

However, in the later part of September 2010, the NSCN (IM) decided not to conclude the arms procurement deal "for the time being" as the ground situation was not favourable in Bangladesh for the trans-shipment of the consignment. This was after 9/11 and the coming of the Awami League government in Dhaka which was far more sympathetic to Indian security concerns than the previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party-Jamaat-e-Islami regime.

What is odd about this sequence of events?

1. No arms were purchased in this process which started after 2007.

2. No arms were brought into India as none could be shipped even to Bangladesh. And,

3. If indeed money was paid to the Chinese company TLC and to the Thai shipping company, all that has now been forfeited and lost by the NSCN (IM).

It is also worth noting what the Ground Rules for Cease-Fire said about NSCN (IM)'s cadres and arms. The cease-fire was just that - a cease-fire - it did not disarm the NSCN (IM) cadre as they had not surrendered to the Indian Army or the government. They had only agreed to talk while being fully armed. The cease-fire ground rules, therefore, only laid down norms about the manner in which arms could be carried by the NSCN (IM) cadres.

According to the NIA, the conspirators had fixed an arms purchase deal of US $ 1.2 million

The NIA probably knows that even a halfway competent lawyer will punch holes into its story. As a backup, Shimary has also been charged with the Cox's Bazar arms landing case of 1996 wherein Bangladeshi forces seized "half of the consignment of weapons" supplied by a arms manufacturing company of China, NORINCO, when it was being unloaded. Recoveries in Tripura in 1999 of weapons purported to be from NORINCO from NSCN (IM) cadres are being sited to claim that these were the same weapons that Shimray had allegedly bought from the Chinese company in 1996.

Shimray could definitely be tried for the 1996 Cox's Bazaar arms landing case. But that case has been tried already in Bangladesh. However, for good measure, the NIA has also raked up a case of bank robbery against Shimray in Namrup in 1982 for which he was jailed in Dibrugarh but escaped.

It can be nobody's case that Anthony Shimray never purchased arms or never robbed the bank in Namrup or that he did not escape from Dibrugarh jail. As head of the Foreign Command of the NSCN (IM), one of his main duties perhaps would have been to procure arms - after all the Naga insurgents were fighting the Indian Army and they could not be expected to do so with bows and arrows. The Indian State is also well within its rights to try him under anti-terrorism laws for purchasing arms to wage a war against it.

The negotiations

However, it is the political context of the negotiations between the Nagas and Delhi that is important. The important question, therefore, is: Does having Shimray in jail help the negotiations or hinder them? By all accounts, his arrest or trial has not stopped the peace talks. The NSCN (IM) has proposed that all NSCN (IM) prisoners must be released once the final peace accord is signed. Presumably, this will include Shimray also.

If that be the case, then how will the government keep a Thai gun-runner in jail and give clemency to the Nagas involved in the case? Willy Naru's extradition to India has clearly complicated the issue.

Anthony Shimray is not the only one who is guilty of the conspiracy he is charged with. He was following orders - this much is clear from the NIA charge-sheet. The NIA claims that he was coming to Delhi to brief his superiors about postponing the arms purchase when he was arrested. The NIA also claims that the money for arms purchase came from the accounts of NSCN (IM). So how is it that those who gave orders and funded the arms purchase are considered innocent while Anthony Shimray has been in jail for the past 5 years?

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First published: 10 December 2015, 1:18 IST
 
Bharat Bhushan @Bharatitis

Editor of Catch News, Bharat has been a hack for 25 years. He has been the founding Editor of Mail Today, Executive Editor of the Hindustan Times, Editor of The Telegraph in Delhi, Editor of the Express News Service, Washington Correspondent of the Indian Express and an Assistant Editor with The Times of India.

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