Swaraj’s Visit to Myanmar
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Myanmar on August 8-11 to attend a number of meetings held in Nay Pyi Taw to boost New Delhi’s ties with ASEAN and other Asia-Pacific nations. Swaraj also held bilateral talks with the leaders of the host country, Myanmar, as part of the Modi government’s policy to strengthen relations with the neighbouring nations. Myanmar occupies a central position in India’s Look East Policy (LEP) as it serves as gateway to ASEAN. For the last two decades, India has been engaged with the quasi-military regime of Myanmar on the diplomatic, economic and defence fronts to consolidate New Delhi’s position vis-à-vis Beijing. The growing assertiveness of China in the Asia-Pacific region is a matter of concern for India like many other Southeast and East Asian nations. Myanmar is the only ASEAN member with which India shares both land and maritime boundaries.
During her talks with Myanmar’s Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin, Swaraj raised India’s serious concern over some militant outfits of North East maintaining bases inside its territory and asked the neighbouring country to take action against them. Swaraj later said, “I raised the issue of Indian insurgent groups and told them that though the political leadership is again and again saying their territory will not be used for terrorist activities, but on the ground, the situation is different”. Swaraj said she told the Myanmarese foreign minister that the insurgent groups are not only security threat to India but to his country as well and that they need to “handle sternly”.
Earlier, The Myanmar government in its bid to boost ties with India had ordered Manipur-based militant outfits to dismantle their camps and leave its soil by June 10, 2012. The order was issued on May 24, just three days before the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid a three-day bilateral visit to the neighbouring country. Intelligence reports indicated that there were 12-15 camps of Meitei insurgent groups such as People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) across the Indo-Myanmar borders where more than 2000 armed cadres had taken shelter. The militant outfits often cross the borders to carryout subversive acts and leave the state to escape action by security forces. Several other North Eastern militant groups are still having bases in Myanmar. The president on August 11 assured New Delhi that his government would never allow its territory to be used for anti-Indian activities when the visiting external affairs minister raised the issue.
India shares a 1,640 km long porous border with Myanmar which is notorious for movement of terrorists and smuggling of small arms and narcotics. Innumerable incidents involving cross-border movement of militants operating from Myanmar have been reported. In November 2012, security personnel arrested four militants of banned PREPAK- Progressive (P) from Indo-Myanmar border area in Manipur’s Churachandpur district with huge arms and ammunition. Interrogation of the militants revealed that they were planning to plant bomb and explosive devices at different places to attack security personnel.
The continuous smuggling of small arms across the Indo-Myanmar borders is another major concern of India’s security establishment. Very recently on August 19, Inspector General of BSF in charge of Meghalaya sector said the North Eastern militants regularly receive “substantial quantity” of illegal arms and ammunition from China and Myanmar. Most of these are transhipped to Dimapur, the main commercial town in Nagaland bordering Assam, and subsequently despatched to other states in the region.
During Swaraj’s visit, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said both governments would focus on operationalising a Memorandum of Understanding facilitating intelligence sharing and cooperation between the security forces of two countries. Several North Eastern states have urged the Centre on numerous occasions to initiate firm steps to end cross-border movement of militants who have been maintaining training camps in northern Myanmar. Intelligence reports have pointed out that after being evicted from Bangladesh, a few militant groups, including ULFA (I), had shifted their underground camps to the Saigaing division of Myanmar, an almost inaccessible region not frequented by Tatmadaw—the armed forces of the country.