Militarisation grips border villages in Kamjong
Source: Chronicle News Service / R Lester Makang

Ukhrul, May 18 2024: The growing presence of security forces on the Indian side of the international border, which the locals call 'intrusive militarisation,' has created a tense situation in Kamjong district that shares the border with neighbouring Myanmar.

The situation is apparently threatening peace and security in the border region, amidst a growing number of refugees from the neighbouring country seeking safety in the border region.

This came to the fore when a team of Ukhrul-based journalists toured the region to collect a ground report of the prevailing situation on May 17.Locals of border villages, situated on the frontlines of the crisis, have voiced serious concerns over the escalating unrest in their neighbouring country.

They alleged the involvement of Indian Security Forces (ISF) in the ongoing unrest, expressing fear that militarisation along the border and the influx of refugees from Myanmar pose serious threats.

The villages, including Zingshophai Choro, located at Indo-Myanmar Border Pillars 5, 6, and 7 (New Border Pillars 93, 94, & 95); K Ashang Khullen Aze, with 35 houses and 118 residents, situated at International Border Pillar 8 (New Border Pillar 92), and Wanglee Namlee, situated near International Border Pillars 8, 9, and 10 (New Border Pillars 89, 90, & 91), have been directly impacted by the ongoing crisis in the neighbouring country.

Zingshophai Choro chief Athot and secretary Jonah Keishing revealed that their village was previously home to 1,000 households, but it now has only 100 remaining.

Many residents have fled their homes, leaving behind a deserted town, they said.

Namlee chief L Keishing alleged that the Assam Rifles (AR), a paramilitary force, has been conducting intrusive actions.

The AR is reported to patrol the village daily without prior notification, raising anxiety among the residents.

He stated that the villagers are upset with the Assam Rifles, and others being referred to as para-regiment adding that villagers saw them taking part in the war by dropping bombs inside Burma using drones.

"We have clearly seen the drones moving towards the Myanmar territory.

We do not want such actions.

I am responsible for my villagers and I don't want war in our area or let anyone go through the fear psychosis," he said.

He stated that in view of the security forces' actions, the village has requested the government to look into the matter and ensure the safety of the locals.

The villagers of Namlee are particularly concerned about the AR's recent installation of unidentified wire structures within the village.

They have repeatedly appealed for the cessation of these activities, only to be met with what the headman described as a 'dismissive and even threatening' response.

S Hungyo, a resident of K Ashang Khullen Aze, disclosed that they are living with the constant fear of violence.

"We hear bombs exploding on the Myanmar side every day," he said, highlighting the unsettling reality they face.

Adding to the existing anxiety, a significant increase in Indian paramilitary presence is being observed in the region.

Two companies of the Assam Rifles and other security forces are being deployed in Aloyo and Namlee, stretching over a distance of 12 to 13 kilometres.

Wanglee headman T Tuithung told the media persons that the villagers had already conveyed to the Assam Rifles stationed in the village to vacate at the soonest.

"We are now suspicious of their activities and movement.

There is a large presence of security forces around here.

They are blatantly moving about freely.

We are worried for our women and children.

I am old and it is unpleasant to see the security forces like that," he related.

According to the chief, the security forces numbering around 20-25 in a truck would head towards the border but only 4/5 would come back in the evening.

"Where are the rest of the people? Transporting their cadres or underground towards the border? They should move out immediately because we want peace and tranquillity in the region".

RKeshing, VA of Namlee, disclosed that the Indian security forces deployed at the border have never called on the village headman or any members of the village councils of Namlee.

They would move directly into the Kuki refugee camp (we have set up separate camps for the Kukis, Vaipheis, and Burmese).

It is learned that in the first week of May 2024, the villagers of Kangpat, Zingshophai Choro, K Ashang Khullen Aze (KAKA), Wanglee, and Namlee had gone searching for a missing person at the border towards Myanmar.

During the joint search operation, a dog that was accompanying the owner stamped on a planted mine bomb and exploded resulting in the injury of a civilian and the dog.

"About 4 kilometres from here, we don't know who has buried those mine bombs, but recently, a civilian was injured when a mine bomb exploded.

There is no doctor around here, but to save his life all of us did what we could, and he is fine now.

With the ongoing war on the border, we don't know who is responsible for the mine bombs, whether it is the Assam Rifles or the Burmese or others.

What we want is to let free movement of the civilians and let us carry out activities without disturbances" stated S Hungyo of KAKA.

A Rungsung stated "the Kukis are at war at two geographically very different places with different opponents.

One in Myanmar against the Juntas and another one in Manipur.

One cannot help but wonder how an unorganised force is fighting a very organised war.

How have they persevered for so long? Who is helping them? From where are they getting their arms?".

An Indian army officer, during an interaction with the media persons, candidly admitted that "KNA or KNA (B) arethe same.

On the Myanmar side, they are known as KNA (B), and its just a change of nomenclature when they cross the border".

Lately, Indian Security Forces have apprehended many Meetei underground cadres at the border.

However, there is not a single report of Kuki underground being apprehended at the border.

For the indigenous community, there are apparent multiple threats from militarisation and influx of refugees at the border.

Chingshangngam Ningshen, secretary of Wanglee, stated that "We are sitting in a red zone.

Anything can happen anytime.

Refugees staying here are only old men, young children, and women folk.

Not a single youth refugee is here at Wanglee.

They have been staying here for so long, and we are apprehensive that there could be bigger problems" .

S Hungyo of K Ashang Khullen Aze (KAKA) stated that "I don't know what guideline is there with regard to refugees.

Around 350 refugees are living here.

We are 35 households with a population of 118 .

We are seeing changes in our day-to-day dealings after the arrival of the refugees.

On humanitarian grounds, we want to accept them, but there are gaps and consequent differences and difficulties between us since we belong to different ethnicities.

We don't know when they can return to their homes.

He then appealed to the government to let the refugees who have outnumbered the locals stay within a demarcated area with strict guidelines.

At the same time, he rued that the prevailing situation has put a huge strain on their resources, explaining that the firewood stock for one year has been consumed in three months.

"Because of the war in Burma, a lot of Burmese refugees are taking shelter here.

They came here for the first time in November 2023 .

More than 1100 refugees came at that time.

This month, 187 more have turned up," L Khathing of Namlee revealed.

Villagers said that the desperate plight of the refugees moved them to offer them shelter without hesitation.

While around 150 have returned to their homeland, over 1,000 still remain here, along with others who have entered discreetly in search of sustenance, they said.

"We have provided them with what resources we can, including rice, but their needs extend beyond our capabilities.

We urge the government to extend its support to these individuals, whose circumstances call for immediate and substantial assistance," they added.

Meanwhile, as many as 259 new refugees have reportedly moved in from Myanmar towards the Indian side as of May 16, 2024.An official team led by SDC of Kasom Khullen, Orient Thansing RS, and Namlee Police Outpost commander MK Worthing is currently stationed at the border for biometric capturing and collecting details of the new influx of refugees.

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