Why is the plan to fence the entire Indo-Myanmar border opposed?

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While the central government is working on fencing the 1,643 km long Indo-Myanmar land border, security agencies have identified a section of people who have opposed the fence. Since the porous border is a hub for drug and human trafficking and other illicit trade, it is suspected that those expressing reservations against the proposed fencing are directly or indirectly benefiting from such activities.

Proper fencing of the Indo-Myanmar border has clear advantages. Nagas who are citizens of Myanmar – and who frequently cross into India through the shared border in Nagaland – can be properly controlled after their movement is fenced off by proper transit routes. The Nagas living in the Somara Marg (part of the Naga Self-Governing Region of Myanmar) and the Hukang Valley in the north of the country are, naturally, citizens of Myanmar.

The border fence will end the Free Movement Regime (FMR) between India and Myanmar, which allows citizens of either side to travel up to 40-50 km inside the other country and stay for 24-48 hours without a passport or visa. Officials of the security establishment also believe that FMR is the main reason behind the increase in the population of the Kuki-Zo community.

Opponents of fencing have an ulterior motive – if fencing is effective, the illegal migration of Kukis and Xos (Chins) from across Myanmar will sooner or later stop. This, in turn, will see a decline in poppy cultivation in Manipur, which earns thousands of crores of rupees a year as revenue.

It is estimated that 90 percent of India’s drug smuggling originates in Myanmar, including not only opium and heroin, but also amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). The town of Moreh in Manipur on the India-Myanmar border is known as a major drug hub. In 2022–23, Moreh was subject to a series of drug seizures and arrests, before trouble between Meitis and Kukis erupted into the open in May, resulting in what the Manipur government declared a “war on drugs”.

Drugs usually reach Moreh through Tamu village in Myanmar and then flow to Imphal as well as Nagaland’s capital Kohima and Dimapur. New Somtal, another Indo-Myanmar border village, is an important stop on the drug smuggling route from Manipur’s Suganu and Churachandpur to Imphal, Kohima and Dimapur. Two other smuggling routes run from Kheman (in Myanmar) to Behiang (Manipur) and then Imphal and Dimapur (Nagaland).

In recent years, human trafficking has also increased – largely blamed on Myanmar’s economic crisis and crackdowns on ethnic communities by its ruling military junta. In addition, arms and other military equipment are trafficked into Myanmar mainly from China’s Kunming region.

Some experts say that beetle nuts are also smuggled through dirt tracks from Myanmar and transported to major roadheads by decades-old ‘powerful’ vehicles after entering India. Consignments of beetle nuts are taken to the railway head at Dimapur or Jiribam and sent to Bihar, where they are used for the manufacture of ‘gutkha’.

Other smuggled goods include Chinese electronic and consumable products, cigarettes and construction materials such as cement, sand and tin sheet. The famous Burma teak is, of course, a high-value item that is brought in secretly.

Some of the lucrative items smuggled into Myanmar and further into other countries include red sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus) – also called khevu in Manipuri. The elements it contains make it an excellent coolant in nuclear reactors. It is believed to be in high demand in China for use in their nuclear reactors.

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Published by:

Aditya Mohan Vig

Published on:

March 31, 2024

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