India nudges Myanmar crackdown on Naga rebels

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Boost in bilateral ties fuelled action on training camps

India’s improved ties with Myanmar led to that country’s crackdown in late January on the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), considered the mother lode of most extremist groups in the northeast.

Another factor that made the Tatmadaw — Myanmar’s military — take over the headquarters of NSCN-K in an operation from January 29 to February 5, was the Naga outfit’s violation of an agreement not to allow Myanmar territory to be used by “any rebel group to attack a neighbouring country (India)”.

According to The Irrawaddy, a Myanmar-based publication, the Tatmadaw took over the NSCN-K’s headquarters, three outposts and two military training schools in the Taga area of Sagaing Region. The schools were run by rebel groups “fighting the Indian government in Assam and Manipur” under the NSCN-K’s supervision.

A top government official said the takeover of the NSCN-K headquarters was a significant development as Taga was the collective headquarters of all extremist groups active in the northeast, except the Isak-Muivah faction of NSCN, that has been on ceasefire mode since 1997.

Taga is close to the Indian border. Extremist groups such as United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and United National Liberation Front of Manipur are known to use jungle routes for hit-and-run operations in India from the NSCN-K’s base.

New Delhi has been constantly conveying to Myanmar the problems created by these outfits. The interaction with the Myanmar government intensified after the NSCN-K split last year and many of its Indian members returned. “We told the Myanmar government that they needed to act,” the official said.

He said all the outfits that the NSCN-K sheltered have vacated the Taga area and are out of reach. “Members of the NSCN-K faction comprising Myanmar nationals are still there. The government there wants it to engage in the nationwide ceasefire agreement but is clear that the Indians must leave,” he added.

The official said NSCN-K’s military chief Niki Sumi, among the last Indian Nagas in the outfit, moved north towards the China border after the crackdown. “The Myanmar Army is putting pressure on them; they don’t want bloodshed,” he said.

Sumi carries an award of ₹10 lakh on his head.

Outlawed in India, the NSCN-K had in March 2015 abrogated a 14-year ceasefire agreement with New Delhi and perpetrated a string of attacks, including the killing of 18 soldiers in an ambush in Manipur in June that year.

There has been no word about the rebels belonging to the other northeastern outfits, specifically the Kathe (Manipuri) groups the Tatmadaw is after. But the Indian Army and the paramilitary Assam Rifles have strengthened vigil along the 1,643 km border with Myanmar, in a bid to intercept them.

Apart from these groups, the Indian armed forces are also on the lookout for possible infiltration by members of the Arakan Army, a Myanmarese rebel group active in the Chin State bordering Mizoram, following the intensification of conflict with the Tatmadaw.

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