The civil war in Myanmar is getting too close to the Indian border for comfort and could heighten the refugee problem, security officials in the border States of Manipur and Mizoram said.
A bigger worry is the possibility of the ethnic armed groups fighting for and against the Myanmar junta getting the spoils of war, primarily sophisticated weapons supplied by international manufacturers or procured from global funding.
Also read: Manipur extremist groups feeling the heat of Myanmar’s civil war
In January, local organisations in Mizoram’s Champhai district had flagged the impact of the bombing by Myanmar’s armed forces “perilously close” to the border between the two countries. The air raids were on camps of ethnic armed groups resisting the Myanmar junta.
Pro-democracy groups in Myanmar said on social media platforms that the civil war intensified after martial law was imposed in seven townships across Myanmar’s Chin State on February 2.
The Chin National Army and Chinland Defence Force, two anti-military ethnic armed groups aligned with Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) in exile, have stepped up their attack on Myanmar Army camps.
Four days ago, the armed groups used drones to drop bombs at a village near Thantlang, a company location of the Myanmar Army in the southernmost fringe of Chin State.
“The place of attack is not very far from the India-Myanmar border and this raises various security concerns. Secondly, these groups are getting access to niche technologies in use for some time in other parts of the world,” a security specialist watching northeast India’s neighbours said on the condition of anonymity.
Funding, increasing firepower
The Myanmar military staged a coup in February 2021. Several People’s Defence Forces, some set up by the NUG and some formed independently, began fighting the military for the restoration of democracy under their jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The major ethnic armed groups that have aligned with the NUG include the Kachin Independence Army, the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force and the Chin National Army.
India has been impacted most by the civil war in the Chin State from where more than 40,000 people have taken shelter in Mizoram and Manipur. Authorities in the border districts of the two States do not rule out the possibility of more Chin people coming in.
The Chins are ethnically related to the Mizos of Mizoram and the Kuki-Zomi people in Manipur. There are at least 25 Kuki-Zomi extremist groups under an agreement for the suspension of operations in Manipur but they are said to be in touch with their Myanmar counterparts.
Similarly, the Valley-Based Insurgent Groups (VBIGs) of Manipur formed mostly by the dominant Meitei community, are reportedly fighting alongside the Myanmar Army against the resistance forces in that country. Many members of these VBIGs are learnt to have been killed in the civil war.
“A major concern is the kind of resources and weaponry the armed groups with stakes in India have access to,” the security specialist said.
According to a December 2022 report by the International Crisis Group, an independent organisation working to prevent wars, Myanmar’s resistance is being crowdfunded. The fundraising is from communities within the country, the diaspora groups and the NUG.
Another independent organisation, the Special Advisory Council on Myanmar published a report in January that said firms in 13 countries in North America, Europe and Asia have been helping the Myanmar military manufacture weapons used in human rights abuses. These countries include the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and Singapore.