TODAY -

Mass youth exodus from Myanmar may end up justifying India's 'border fencing'
Border Fencing may not be the best way...but it is a "Pragmatic way"

Nirendra Dev *



"Government of India bhi pagla na hoe....(The Government of India cannot be so irrational)," reportedly said a senior Nagaland politician. The explanation was that - there are some emerging security issues especially in the context of developments in Myanmar after the 2021 coup. There have been substantial number of Myanmarese citizens including junta army personnel who have sneaked into Mizoram and Manipur between 2022 and 2023.

On Friday, Feb 16, at Yangon, there were over 1000 Myanmarese youths lined up at the Thai embassy for paper works as young people sought to leave Myanmar after the junta said it would impose military service.

On Wednesday, Feb 14, the junta said that it would recruit 60,000 young men and women for military service under the "Conscription law".

Myanmar's military said it would enforce the law that says men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27 have to serve for at least two years (under junta) as it struggles to quell opposition to the 2021 coup. The junta is facing widespread armed resistance to its rule after seizing power from the elected civilian government.

Recently it suffered a series of stunning losses to an armed alliance of ethnic minority groups in various parts of the country. In India, the Govt of India has decided to enforce border fencing and the move is being opposed by locals in Mizoram and Nagaland mainly.

A number of indigenous people organisation leaders met in Dimapur on Feb 16 and resolved to oppose border fencing and the scrapping of FMR. The organisations wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said, "The decision to do away with the Free Movement Regime (FMR) and erect border fencing is not only impractical and dehumanizing to the communities living on both sides of the border but, such an approach may only diminish the prospects for peace and well being in the restive region.”

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs earlier this year decided to scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) between India and Myanmar to ensure the "internal security of the country and to maintain the demographic structure" of India’s North Eastern States bordering Myanmar. The letter from indigenous leaders to PM Modi addresses some of the complexities.

The Modi government's mantra has been “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (one world, one family), on ground, New Delhi is perhaps “dividing families” at the borders using security as the argument to justify the removal of the FMR.

“The security argument that your government has used to justify the removal of FMR stands in contradiction to the diplomatic and strategic outreach with the neighbouring countries and, more importantly, it violates the indigenous rights of the border communities. We strongly oppose the security-centric approach to border management,” it said.

But the government of India officials say "if enforced under law and fencing is erected", the border fencing law will be imposed. A middle path may be the introduction of some regulations. "We are confident that once some steps are taken, there will be positive results too. It is easy to say we have farming in Myanmar land and it's a matter within the family. But in Manipur, drugs do come in and there are movements of armed militants and even arms reach vulnerable pockets. All these ought to be checked," an official told this journalist on the condition of anonymity.

On further probing, he says, "Infiltration on a huge scale has impacted Manipur. You are coming as a journalist from Delhi and may not see things on ground. But Manipur 2023 was also a lesson strategically. Border Fencing may not be the best way...but as of now it is a Pragmatic way". If people queue up to leave Myanmar for moving to Thailand, imagine what they would try along the Myanmar-India border especially along Mizoram and Manipur.

"Even during Covid19 crisis, Myanmar citizens have entered Mizoram. All of you have reported these in the media too," the official says.

Altogether, more than 31,000 people from Myanmar, mostly from the Chin state, have taken refuge in Mizoram following the military coup in the neighbouring country in February 2021. Reports by foreign news agencies from Yangon said, the Thai embassy has been issuing 400 numbered tickets a day in order to manage the queue.

Student Aung Phyo, 20, told AFP (French news agency) that he arrived at the embassy at 8 pm on Thursday and slept in his car before starting to queue around midnight. "We had to wait for three hours and police opened the security gate around 3 am and we had to run to the front of the embassy to try to get places for a token," said Aung Phyo, who, like others AFP spoke to, used a pseudonym because of fears for his safety.

The lack of information about the new military service scheme has only fueled anxiety among those who could be affected. "When I heard this military service law, I was shocked," said student War War, 20.

She said many of her friends were now asking about joining anti-coup People's Defence Force (PDF) groups rather than risk being drawn in to fight for the junta. "Young people in Myanmar have lost their dreams, and this law hurts them and makes them even more afraid," she said.

The Nagaland government top guns reportedly admitted that there is a "movement of armed cadres" and many believe this is a reality as the Solution vis-a-vis Naga peace talks still remain elusive. Hence in some quarters, steps are being taken to ensure an early Solution to Naga peace talks with a pact.


* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at nirendev1(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 23 February 2024.



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