India’s NE concern over escalating Myanmar violence

India is getting sucked in

India’s two eastern neighbours continue to witness socio-political turmoil in recent days increasing security concern for the country’s north-eastern region (NE). While Bangladesh is going through political uncertainty over its 12th national election due in January 2024, Myanmar (also known as Burma or Brahmadesh) now faces a full-scale civil war, where the Burmese armed forces are facing unusual resistance from the anti-junta and pro-democracy groups, many of them even armed. Some parts of the south-east Asian nation have now gone under the control of those rebels, who had recently launched a massive offensive against the military junta to throw away the military dictators from Naypyidaw.

The land of golden pagodas has slowly slipped into a place of intensive conflicts after the present band of dictators, led by Min Aung Hlaing, staged a coup on 1 February 2021 that ousted a democratically elected government under the leadership of Nobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party National League for Democracy (NLD) recorded a massive victory in the last national polls. The pro-democracy icon was detained and later imprisoned by the military-controlled courts for many years under fictitious cases alleging her involvement in electoral fraud.

Along with Suu Kyi, who functioned as State Counselor in the previous government, President U Win Myint and many NLD chief ministers and ministers were booked for electoral fraud. But the polls in November 2020 were participated in by over 27 million people (out of a total 55 million population) where the NLD nominees won in over 920 seats (out of 1,117 available constituencies). The military-supported Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) succeeded in 71 seats only. Even though the domestic and international observers argued that the polling was free and fair, the military dictators termed it unlawful.

Some 141 elected NLD lawmakers (both in the Parliament and States) and over 1,900 NLD activists were arrested after the coup and half of them are still behind bars. Many elected representatives fled the country and at least 18 among them died with illness because of inadequate medical care while in hiding. The military rulers seized properties belonging to 182 elected representatives. Former lawmaker Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw was even executed by the junta authority following trials in the closely-functioned military courts.

Progressive Voice, a participatory rights-based advocacy organization, claimed that by the end of November over 4,200 civilians were killed and 25,000 arrested by the junta forces. The soldiers   have torched at least 76,000 properties in different localities across Myanmar. No less than 150 media personnel were also detained by the military council and some 25 are still inside various jails. At least three journalists died of military atrocities in separate incidents. Days

back, the Geneva-based global media safety and rights body Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) expressed serious concern over the imprisonment of working journalists in Myanmar and urged the authorities to ensure fair trials for them.

A recent statement issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees revealed that over 333,500 civilians have been rendered homeless in the ongoing gun fighting between the junta forces and ethnic armed organizations along with the people’s defense force (PDF). More than 2 million were displaced across the country since the last military takeover. The intense fighting continues and lately expands into new localities with densely populated areas. From the States of Shan, Kayah (formerly Karenni), Mandalay & Sagaing divisions, the battles against the junta forces (popularly known as Tatmadaw) expand to Rakhine and Chin States.

The Buddhist-majority country also supports a number of NE militant groups, which have been waging a war against New Delhi for various separatist homelands. Amazingly, most of them remained supportive to the Burmese military rulers and hence avoided engaging in the ongoing anti-junta battles.

The latest wave of gun fighting broke out on 27 October, when three ethnic minority groups (namely Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Arakan Army) coordinated their offensive in northern Shan locality, which is adjacent to China. Named Operation 1027, the offensive has achieved some successes as Tatmadaw had to lose nearly 200 military camps and nine towns till the end of November. Lately, the Arakan Army (AA) has launched an /offensive in Rakhine State (bordering Bangladesh) killing many soldiers and even compelling some to surrender with arms & ammunition to AA rebels.

Burmese political activist Khin Ohmar, while speaking to this writer from an undisclosed location, revealed that the Rakhine region has already descended into a full-blown civil war, where the Myanmar military are shelling innocent people, using airstrikes to displace more people and even  blocking humanitarian assistance to the people in distress. She also added that the military junta is laying landmines and continuing to use airstrikes over populated villages as a form of collective punishment. But lately, the soldiers have been abandoning their outposts and various strategic points to avoid the hit of AA offensives, added Ohmar.

The UN office of humanitarian affairs recently stated that the fresh clashes in Rakhine localities displaced over 26,000 people. The well-trained AA rebels maintain its demand for the restoration of democracy in their land with the collective desire to safeguard the lives of civilians and assert rights for self-defense and maintain territorial integrity. The UN office also pointed out that individual soldiers are not collectively responsible for the crimes & human rights violations and hence they should be treated with humanity.

Amazingly, a recent public demonstration attracted the attention of political observers as it chanted slogans against China, which is usually known as a trusted neighbour and arms supplier to Myanmar. A good number of people assembled in front of the Chinese Embassy in Yangon on 19 November and propagating anti-Beijing statements was an unusual occurrence in the country. The seemingly pro-junta militia groups claimed that Beijing was behind the recent offensive against the military regime and also supporting the PDF, the armed wing of

National Unity Government. Speculations are now raised that Communist China wants to topple the current batch of Burmese military dictators.

Contrary to its mandate, the  Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) remains a mute spectator to all troubles in its  member country. Over 600 Myanmar national and international organizations have recently criticized the ASEAN for failing to make the junta accountable for relentless crimes against humanity. They also urged the ASEAN leadership to take concrete actions to fulfil the demands forwarded by the Burmese people to  establish a federal democratic union and bring all military dictators to justice for committing mass atrocity crimes since the illegal coup.

The troubles in various western Myanmar localities increased the influx of refugees to northeast India. Many Burmese soldiers also crossed the porous boundary to arrive in Mizoram and were later sent back by the Indian agencies. The government in Aizawl has extended necessary support to the refugees (mostly Chin people as they enjoy ethnic proximity to Mizos). The Chin bordering hilly State now gives shelter to thousands of asylum seekers and many of their children have even enrolled names in the government-run schools. Manipur and Nagaland

have also witnessed the arrival of over 600 Burmese nationals in the last few days.

New Delhi has already directed the Indian nationals in Myanmar to register their names with the embassy in Yangon (formerly Rangoon). It also asked the citizens to avoid non-essential travels to the country in view of the evolving security situation there. Earlier India, which shares a land border (1643 km) and a maritime boundary (725 km, in the Bay of Bengal) with Myanmar called for cessation of gun fighting between the junta forces and rebel groups near the international border. It maintained the call for the return of peace and stability as well as democracy in the country.

The Buddhist-majority country also supports a number of NE militant groups, which have been waging a war against New Delhi for various separatist homelands. Amazingly, most of them remained supportive to the Burmese military rulers and hence avoided engaging in the ongoing anti-junta battles.

However, the PDF members and ethnic rebels targeted NE militants as they continued to be junta.-supportive. Lately, a camp of United National Liberation Front was raided and a large volume of arms and ammunition along with important documents were seized. New Delhi needs to deal with the junta carefully so that a sustainable solution to the insurgency problems of NE can be achieved.

Nava Thakuria
Nava Thakuria
Nava Thakuria is an independent Indian journalist based in Kamrup, Assam

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