India: Collateral Threats In Mizoram – Analysis
By Oyindrila Chattopadhyay*
On December 31, 2021, Security Forces (SFs) during an operation recovered large quantity of explosives from an area three kilometers south of Mawhre village in Saiha District along the India-Myanmar International Border. The recoveries included 81 kilograms of liquid explosives, 94 kilograms of Belox granules, 395 kilograms of Gelatin rods, 356 rounds of a 12-gauge shotgun, 70 mm cartridges, one Improvised Explosive Device, lead-acid battery, two Detonators and other materials, including foreign communication equipment.
On October 23, 2021, SFs recovered a cache of ammunition near Tiau Kai village in Champhai District along the India-Myanmar International Border. The recoveries included 100 live rounds, 38 Neogel Gelatin sticks and 251 detonators.
On September 9, 2021, SFs recovered one rifle along with one live round of ammunition from the Chhungte area of Champhai District.
For the sixth consecutive year, Mizoram did not record a single insurgency-related fatality, yet incidents of recoveries of weapons and explosives increased considerably. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), eight incidents of such recoveries were reported in the state in 2021, as against two in 2020. The number of such incidents in 2021 is the highest recorded in a year, since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on insurgencies in the Northeast. The previous high of seven such incidents was recorded in 2015.
The upsurge in recoveries was due to increased vigilance by Security Forces (SFs) after the February 1, 2021, coup d’état by Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) in Myanmar. On October 18, 2021, the Director General of Assam Rifles, Lieutenant General P. C. Nair urged all commanders in the Northeast to be “ever vigilant in view of the volatile and dynamic environment,” alluding to the potential threats emanating from coup-hit Myanmar. Significantly, nine out of the total 10 incidents of recovery in 2021 were reported from districts which share borders with Myanmar.
Further, 16 persons were arrested in 2021, as against six in 2020. The total number of arrests in 2021 is the highest in a year since 2014, when 19 persons were arrested. 10 of the 16 arrests made in 2021 were during incidents of recovery.
Clearly, the potential for terrorist violence has increased in recent years in Mizoram, though this may largely be the result of the fact that the State has long been used for transit by armed groups from neighbouring states, exploiting areas along/across the unfenced India-Myanmar international border in Mizoram. This region has been used as a safe haven and a transit in the past, but was secured in 2019 after two phases of Operation Sunrise during that year. However, the situation started to deteriorate after the coup in Myanmar, and the subsequent revolt by citizens as well as the armed ethnic factions who dominate Myanmar’s border areas. These factors have significantly escalated cross-border movements of militants from Myanmar into Mizoram.
On December 14, 2021, the lone member of Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) from the State, K. Vanlalvena informed Parliament that over 15,000 Myanmar nationals had taken refuge in Mizoram following February 2021 coup, which resulted in both a humanitarian crisis and security issues in the State. The state’s border is, moreover, particularly porous due to regulations permitting free movement of local populations in a 16-kilometre belt along the border. Moreover, a January 2, 2022, report quoted an unnamed Assam Rifles official as stating,
A uniform command structure is also absent. As a result, insurgent groups camping in Myanmar could come in, operate here, recruit people, launch an offensive and even do drug business. One state (Mizoram) even went against the orders of the Union government and opened camps for refugees from Myanmar.
On September 15, 2021, two Myanmar nationals were arrested, for illegal possession of weapons and ammunition near Sekul river in Lawngtlai District along the India-Myanmar border. The recoveries included automatic rifles of Myanmar origin, a magazine and 26 rounds of ammunition.
Earlier, on June 11, 2021, five militants belonging to the Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) of Myanmar were arrested from the Kakichhuah village in Lawngtlai District in Mizoram. One 9 mm pistol, one revolver, 55 rounds and four live grenades was recovered from the arrested militants.
Again, on June 22, two persons were arrested along with cache of ammunition from Farkawn in Serchhip District. The recoveries included 3,900 detonators, 63 sacks of explosive substances weighing a total of 1.3 tonnes, and other materials. Investigation later confirmed that they were working for the Chin National Army (CNA), an insurgent group from Myanmar.
Significantly, the arrest of Myanmar-based ALA militants took place after a tip-off from the locals that the militants were demanding INR 300,000 from them. The locals had been responding on compassionate grounds to Myanmarese (mostly Chin) refugees, as most of them were from kindred tribes.
The Bru issue also continues to stir tension in Mizoram. On October 30, 2021, in a by poll for the Tuirial (Kolasib District of Mizoram) Assembly constituency, no Bru voters from Tripura transit camps came to cast their vote, principally because strong objections were voiced by the influential civil society organization, the Central Young Mizo Association (YMA) and the main opposition political party, the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM). Both YMA and ZPM oppose any special arrangement for Bru voters in Tripura and have demanded deletion of the names from Mizoram’s voters’ list of those who are ‘permanently settled’ in Tripura. Moreover, Mizoram Election Commission (EC) did not make any special provision for the Bru voters to exercise their franchise in their respective camps in Tripura.
The Brus, also referred to as Reangs, are inhabitants of Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei Districts. Due to tribal rivalry over the Mizo groups’ contention that the Brus “are not indigenous to Mizoram,” ethnic violence forced thousands of Bru to leave their homes in Mizoram. More than 30,000 were displaced from Mizoram to Tripura in 1997 following ethnic violence sparked by the killing of a forest official in Mizoram by Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) militants on October 21, 1997. An agreement signed between the Union Government and the Mizoram Bru Refugees Displaced Forum on July 3, 2018, for the repatriation of the Bru tribals to Mizoram, is yet to be implemented.
Meanwhile, the interstate border dispute between Assam and Mizoram became one of the biggest security crises of the Northeast region in 2021. Though tensions have prevailed between the two states for long, in a major flare up, on July 26, 2021, five Assam Police personnel, including Sub Inspector Swapan Roy, as well as a civilian, were killed along the Assam-Mizoram inter-state boundary along the Kolasib District (Mizoram) and the Cachar District (Assam). Another, 50 policemen, including Superintendent of Police, Cachar, Nimbalkar Vaibhav Chandrakant, and nine civilians, were injured. On July 27, one of the injured Policeman succumbed to his injuries, taking fatalities up to six.
Again, on October 30, 2021, tensions flared up between the two states when an Indian Reserve Battalion trooper from Mizoram was arrested following an IED blast in the Hailakandi District of Assam. The blast occurred in the area just two days after the Assam Police objected to the construction of a culvert in the Kachurthal area.
Though the escalating tensions were defused after a series of talks between Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga and his Assam counterpart, Himanta Biswa Sarma, in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the problem is far from over. However, on December 6, 2021, during the meeting with Shah, the Mizoram and Assam Governments agreed to form teams involving all stakeholders to resolve the border dispute through dialogue. Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga stated that the inter-state border dispute between Mizoram and Assam is a “long-pending issue which needs more time to be solved.”
Despite the fact that Mizoram has remained free of insurgency-related violence since 2015, the state continues to be disturbed by rising incidents of weapons and explosives smuggling. The state has also been burdened with thousands of refugees from Myanmar, including lawmakers and policemen, fleeing violence from the neighbouring country since the start of 2021. Violent border disputes with Assam have generated further tensions. These issues need to be urgently addressed if the hard-won peace in the state is to endure.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management