Burmese Army (Representative image)

The Indian army has completed a counter-insurgency drive against the Arakan Army (AA), now the strongest rebel group fighting for autonomy in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine province.

At least three AA camps in Chhimtuipui district of India’s northeastern state of Mizoram have been hit, Indian army sources said.

But details of casualties or arrests were not readily available.  Indian military officials are tight-lipped about the operation.

But one senior Indian army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Northeast Now that the operation was ‘reciprocal’, suggesting a return of favour for the Burmese military operation against northeast Indian rebel bases in Myanmar’s Sagaing province in early February.

It took place in the last week of February and continued until mid March, he said.

Burmese military sources say they were aware of the Indian military operation in Mizoram’s remote Chhimtuipui district bordering Myanmar’s Chin state.

The Arakan Army has recently taken prisoner 11 Burmese soldiers and seized weapons following a weekend clash in Chin state’s Paletwa township, which abuts the volatile Rakhine state.

This follows a deadly ambush by the rebel group earlier this month in which 9 Burmese policemen were killed and another pipe-bomb blast that killed the wife of a Burmese military officer.

AA spokesman Khine Thukha told mediapersons that the guerrillas of his group captured the Burmese soldiers after overrunning a hill feature near Paletwa’s Pyan So village on March 9.

He said the soldiers were from Light Infantry Battalion 563 based in Rakhine’s Gwa township and stationed in Paletwa under the command of Light Infantry Division 5, he said.

More than 20 Burmese soldiers and policemen have been killed in recent weeks in attacks by the Arakan Army , which is said to have bases in India’s Mizoram state and Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Burmese troops hit Northeast Indian rebels 

In early February, the Burmese army attacked several bases of northeast Indian rebels in Myanmar’s Sagaing province.

While the fighters of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)‘s Khaplang group did not resist the Burmese army , those from the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) fought and lost one ‘major’ Jyotirmoy Asom and three fighters in a brief gunbattle .

Some NSCN-Khaplang group leaders have been taken into custody and told not to carry out any hostile action against India or back any anti-Indian rebel group.

The NSCN-Khaplang faction has attacked Indian security forces since it reneged on a ceasefire agreement with India in 2015.

There has been a spate of surrenders from the rebel ranks in the northeast Indian states of Assam and Manipur after the Burmese military action.

“Surgical strike” 

The Indian army conducted a trans-border ‘surgical strike, against a NSCN-K base in 2016 after eighteen Indian soldiers were killed in a deadly ambush by its guerrillas.

The faction, led by Burmese Naga leaders, also put together a coalition of four anti-Indian rebel groups from the country’s troubled Northeast and offered them bases in Sagaing.

NSCN-K leaders say they did not resist the Burmese military because they want to be part of the nationwide ceasefire in Myanmar and continue negotiations for greater autonomy of the country’s Naga self-administered zone in Sagaing province.

Indian military officials say the Burmese military operation in Sagaing has “unsettled” the northeastern rebel groups, leading to sporadic surrenders and a drop in their hostile activity.

Analysts say this is perhaps the first time Indian and Burmese armies are operating in tandem, targeting ‘other-country’ bases of separatist rebels fighting their forces.

“India would welcome any drop in rebel activity in Northeast at a time its forces are hard pressed in Kashmir, while the Burmese would welcome military pressure on the Arakan Army to curb the rising spate of their offensive actions,” said Major General Gaganjit Singh, former deputy chief of Defense Intelligence Agency.

The Burmese army attacked Naga and Mizo separatists from India in the 1960-70s when they tried reaching China for training through its territory.

China not only backed the Indian rebels but also those from the now defunct Burmese Communist Party.

But after India backed the Burmese democracy movement in the 1980s, the Myanmar army stopped targeting the northeast Indian rebels.

Indian intelligence developed close ties with Kachin , Chin and Arakanese rebels in Myanmar to prevent them from supporting northeast Indian rebels at that time.

But since 1998, the two armies have slowly tried to developed closer military ties, with the Burmese army (known as Tatmadaw in Myanmar) looking to India for training, military hardware and closer counter-insurgency cooperation.

This despite China being the main supplier of military hardware for the Tatmadaw.

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. He can be reached at: sbhaum@gmail.com

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.