SUBIR BHAUMIK | Naypyidaw and Shillong
THE Indian army has completed a brief counter–insurgency drive against the Arakan Army (AA), now the strongest rebel group fighting for autonomy in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine province.
At least three AA camps in Chhimtuipui district of India’s northeastern state of Mizoram have been demolished, Indian army sources said.
■ India helps Myanmar to destroy 10 insurgent camps that ‘were a threat’ to its Kaladan project
But details of casualties or arrests were not yet available.
One senior Indian army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told LOOKEAST that the operation was ‘reciprocal’, suggesting a return of favour for the Burmese military operation against northeast Indian rebel bases in Myanmar’s Sagaing province in early February.
But he said these were no surgical strikes, as suggested by some in the Indian media.
Senior Indian army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told LOOKEAST that the operation was ‘reciprocal’, suggesting a return of favour for the Burmese military operation against northeast Indian rebel bases in Myanmar’s Sagaing province
“These were military action inside Indian territory, we pushed out the Arakan Army rebels from Mizoram,” the officer said.
Burmese military sources say they were aware of the Indian military operation in Mizoram’s remote Chhimtuipui district bordering Myanmar’s Chin state.
The Arakan Army has recently taken prisoner 11 Burmese soldiers and seized weapons following a weekend clash in Chin state’s Paletwa township, which abuts the volatile Rakhine state.
■ The Arakan Army displays weapons and ammunition it seized during a weekend attack on Myanmar Army soldiers near Pyan So village in Paletwa township, western Myanmar’s Chin state | Arakan Army
This follows a deadly ambush by the rebel group earlier this month in which 9 Burmese policemen were killed and another pipe–bomb blast that killed the wife of a Burmese military officer.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha told media persons that the guerrillas of his group captured the Burmese soldiers after overrunning a hill feature near Paletwa’s Pyan So village on March 9.
He said the soldiers were from Light Infantry Battalion 563 based in Rakhine’s Gwa township and stationed in Paletwa under the command of Light Infantry Division 5, he said.
More than 20 Burmese soldiers and policemen have been killed in recent weeks in attacks by the Arakan Army , which is said to have bases in India’s Mizoram state and Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The rebels have not only engaged the Burmese troops in bitter fighting in and around the ancient town of Mrauk–U but also burnt down a barge carrying steel girders for the Paletwa bridge now being constructed under the India–financed Kaladan multimodal project.
In fact they also kidnapped eight Burmese workers engaged in road building under the project near Paletwa.
Perhaps the Arakan Army is signalling to India not to go after its fighters just to please the Burmese because with their current strength of around 3000 fighters, the rebel group is in a position to disrupt work on the road section of the Kaladan multimodal project.
Arakan Army is signalling to India not to go after its fighters just to please the Burmese because with their current strength of around 3000 fighters, the rebel group is in a position to disrupt work on the road section of the Kaladan multimodal project
BURMESE TROOPS HIT NORTHEAST INDIAN REBELS
In early February, the Burmese army attacked several bases of northeast Indian rebels in Myanmar’s Sagaing province.
While the fighters of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)’s Khaplang group did not resist the Burmese army , those from the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) fought and lost one ‘major’ Jyotirmoy Asom and three fighters in a brief gun–battle .
Some NSCN–Khaplang group leaders have been taken into custody and told not to carry out any hostile action against India or back any anti–Indian rebel group.
The NSCN–Khaplang faction have attacked Indian security forces since it reneged on a ceasefire agreement with India in 2015.
There has been a spate of surrenders from the rebel ranks in the northeast Indian states of Assam and Manipur after the Burmese military action.
The Indian army conducted a trans–border ‘surgical strike’, against a NSCN–K base in 2016 after eighteen Indian soldiers were killed in a deadly ambush by its guerrillas.
The faction, led by Burmese Naga leaders, also put together a coalition of four anti–Indian rebel groups from the country’s troubled northeast and offered them bases in Sagaing.
“This group became a headache for us because it became a rallying point for most rebel groups in the Northeast. We have to neutralise them and it helps when the Burmese army cooperates,” said John Mukherjee, former chief of staff of India’s eastern army.
This group became a headache for us because it became a rallying point for most rebel groups in the Northeast. We have to neutralise them and it helps when the Burmese army cooperates
NSCN–K leaders say they did not resist the Burmese military because they want to be part of the nationwide ceasefire in Myanmar and continue negotiations for greater autonomy of the country’s Naga self–administered zone in Sagaing Province.
Indian military officials say the Burmese military operation in Sagaing has “unsettled” the northeastern rebel groups, leading to sporadic surrenders and a drop in their hostile activity.
Analysts say this is perhaps the first time Indian and Burmese armies are operating in tandem, targeting ‘other–country’ bases of separatist rebels fighting their forces.
“India would welcome any drop in rebel activity in Northeast at a time its forces are hard pressed in Kashmir, while the Burmese would welcome military pressure on the Arakan Army to curb the rising spate of their offensive actions,” said Major General Gaganjit Singh, former deputy chief of Defense Intelligence Agency.
The Burmese army attacked Naga and Mizo separatists from India in the 1960–70s when they tried reaching China for training through its territory.
China not only backed the Indian rebels but also those from the now defunct Burmese Communist Party.
But after India backed the Burmese democracy movement in the 1980s, the Myanmar army stopped targetting the northeast Indian rebels.
Indian intelligence developed close ties with Kachin, Chin and Arakanese rebels in Myanmar to prevent them from supporting northeast Indian rebels at that time.
But since 1998, the two armies have slowly tried to developed closer military ties, with the Burmese army (known as Tatmadaw in Myanmar) looking to India for training, military hardware and closer counter–insurgency cooperation.
This despite China being the main supplier of military hardware for the Tatmadaw. ■