By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
For the first time, the Myanmar Government formally handed over 22 Indian insurgents from the North East to the Indian Consul General at Hkmati airport on the 16th of May this year.
Of these rebels, 12 belonged to various groups from Manipur and ten were from Assam. The plane first landed in Imphal to hand over those from Manipur and then went on to Guhawati to hand over the rest to the local police.
The insurgents handed over included those from UNLF Manipur, Prepak Manipur- Peoples Revolutionary party of Kangleipak, People’s Liberation Army of Manipur, NDFB-S of Bodoland and KLO- Kamatipur Liberation Orgainsation.
The group included some top leaders of the organisation including a self styled Home Secretary of NDFB-S, a Captain from UNLF and a Lieutenant from Prepak. Indian reports indicate that the insurgents were handed over at the initiative of the National Security Adviser and there was also a mention of a name to this operation- Operation Sunrise.
The Myanmar Press has also reported the incident. It said that the Myanmar Army arrested these insurgents operating in Myanmar and were put on trial. There were twenty-four of them.
Last May, the Hkmati District Court Sagaing Division sentenced all of them to two years in prison under Article 17(1) of Unlawful Association Act. Of these 22 of them who were non nationals were released under Presidential Amnesty in April this year.
Nothing is mentioned about the balance of two persons who perhaps were Myanmar citizens.
It is said that President U Win Myint granted amnesty in response to the appeal made by the Naga Literature and Cultural Association members both to the President and the State Counselor Suu Kyi. Since they were not Myanmar nationals, they were handed over to the Indian Consul General at Mandalay who covers the Hkmati region.
Since the beginning of 2019, more precisely after the Arakan Army declared open civil war against the Government, the Myanmar authorities have been cooperating with Indian counterparts to chase the Indian insurgents camping in Myanmar and continuing with their predatory attacks within India.
Earlier, for the last so many decades, Myanmar had not fully cooperated with appeals from Indian authorities to deny sanctuaries to Indian insurgents.
The Myanmar army also had a problem.
The Indian insurgents were not causing any problem to the Myanmar authorities when the Myanmar Army was otherwise having its hands full with their insurgents spread all over Myanmar.
Secondly, the Indian Insurgents had plenty of money looted or extorted from India and could keep the local Myanmar Posts and their military commanders happy. But this had to change- not because that there was a change of mind in Myanmar, but because the ground situation on the western side of Myanmar had become hot with the Myanmar Army having taken and is still taking considerable casualties from the Arakan Army that is located in the west near the Indian border.
The Myanmar Army needs the western border closed to the Arakan Army lest the areas in Indian territory are used as safe havens. With almost 95 percent support from the people in Rakhine State the Arakan Army does not need any safe havens in India right now.
It is said that India has also provided some technical help to the Myanmar Army in dealing with the Arakan Army though it has not been verified yet. In February and March 2019, there were back to back operations in the Sagaing region to clear out the camps of the Indian insurgents.
In February the Myanmar army took control of the NSCN (K) Headquarters after the death of their leader S.S. Khaplang who while having a “cease fire” with the Myanmar Army was not only attacking Indian Army personnel but was also providing shelter to various Indian insurgent groups. Though belated, it is a welcome gesture from Myanmar.
Aung Zaw the editor of Irawady in his commentary has dubbed it as “part of Naypyitaw’s trade off aimed at winning the trust and favour of New Delhi.” Perhaps Aung Zaw could be right.
According to his own observations, there are also six groups of Manipuri insurgents in addition to the NSCN of Khaplang faction and they would number over 2000. Myanmar after the recent raids is aware of the sources of weapons for the rebels and indeed if it is serious it could choke the supply lines of the Manipuri insurgents.
It is hoped that Myanmar’s move which is considered to be a strategic shift continues so that both countries which have been troubled with ethnic insurgencies since independence join hands for mutual benefit and stability in that part of the region.