Indian rebel outfits regrouping in Myanmar again

Rajeev Bhattacharyya
Separatist rebel outfits from India’s frontier region of the North East are regrouping in Myanmar more than two years after their camps and training facilities were dismantled in an operation lasting several months.
According to former functionaries associated with the Yung Aung faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K/YA), at least four militant groups from India’s border States of Assam and Manipur, including the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Kangla Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and the People’s Republican Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), have redeployed their fighters in Myanmar’s Naga-inhabited region.
They have been spotted at a location east of Hoyat village in Myanmar, which is inhabited by Konyak Nagas, the former NSCN-K/YA functionaries said.
A senior Indian Government official in New Delhi confirmed to The Diplomat that North Eastern rebel outfits were indeed regrouping in Myanmar.
The NSCN-K/YA was also making efforts to erect a new general headquarters in Myanmar in the earlier pattern, where camps of other outfits were located within a radius of 6-10 kilometers, the official said.
Actively linked to all these groups is the independent faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I), an insurgent group in India’s border State of Assam, which had declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Government. The ceasefire, which the outfit said was due to the pandemic, came on the heels of increasing surrenders from the camps in Myanmar, including a few functionaries who had spent several decades in the organization.
But alongside the ceasefire with the Government, ULFA-I has been recruiting new cadres to fill up the vacant ranks, which was telecast by a few local TV news channels in Assam. In November, some women also crossed the border to join the group, among whom were two well-known kickboxers.
The regrouping of separatist militants from India’s North East in Myanmar is happening more than two years after most of their camps were eradicated by the Tatmadaw in an exercise codenamed Operation Sunrise.
The facilities at Taga in Myanmar’s Hukwang Valley and NSCN-K’s Second Battalion and General Headquarters in the Naga-inhabited region, which also housed other rebel groups, were shelled and destroyed in the operation.
The number of rebels killed in Operation Sunrise remains a matter of speculation. What is certain is that the majority of the militants belonging to the Manipuri outfits headed to camps in the southern region of Myanmar’s Sagaing Division.
Another group, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), surrendered and inked an agreement with the Indian Government while those from ULFA-I headed north to their camps in the Pangmi Naga area, which were not destroyed during the operation.
The situation has changed drastically since the Myanmar military coup in February 2021 and the subsequent armed conflict in the country.
In a replay of events somewhat similar to the early 1990s in Myanmar, the Tatmadaw has normalized its ties with many armed groups in what appears to be a shrewd effort at marshaling its resources for effectively combating the armed uprisings in some hotspots such as Kachin and Karen States.
The friendly groups Tatmadaw are reportedly deployed against the People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) in Chin State and Sagaing Division.
It is evident, therefore, that the Myanmar military has reached a new understanding with these groups, which explains the increased presence of rebel cadres in Myanmar’s Naga region.
It is highly possible that these militant groups will make efforts to establish new linkages and supply routes to ensure the sustainability of their campaign in India’s North East.
Observers in Assam feel that ULFA-I could reach out to marginalized communities in the State to widen its ambit of operations.
(To be contd)