India - Myanmar: Concern Over Civil War Leading to Refugee Influx
STORIES, ANALYSES, EXPERT VIEWS
In a spillover of the civil war in Myanmar, 1,500 persons fled to Mizoram’s Champhai district early on November 13. This followed a major coordinated attack, on forces of the Myanmar junta by three ethnic armed groups – the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) in Myanmar’s north Shan State abutting China. The coordinated attacks by rebels including the Chin National Army (CNA), Chin Defense Force, led to the capture of two bases — the Khawmawi and Rihkhawdar military camps. 39 soldiers of the junta also fled to Mizoram but were last week sent back by Indian defence authorities.
The coordinated attacks, termed ‘Operation 1027’, by the Three Brotherhood Alliance as the three groups called their collective, according to Srinivasan Ramani (Senior Associate Editor/ Deputy National Editor, The Hindu) “led to serious setbacks for the junta’s forces in Shan State and brought about a sequence of other rebel attacks – including those in Chin State in the following days.”
Scores of military outposts and bases were either abandoned by the junta forces or were captured by the rebels, with the UN stating that 60,000 people in Shan State and 2,00,000 overall in the country have been displaced following the current hostilities taking the total number of civilian displacements to more than two million since the coup.
Background to the current civil war
In February 2021, a new junta, the State Administration Council (SAC) dominated by the Myanmar armed forces organised a military coup that ousted the civilian National League for Democracy-government and detained (and later imprisoned) its leader Aung San Suu Kyi among many other legislators and party officials. The coup led to the collapse of the country’s democratic phase that opened up after the 2008 Constitution.
Following the coup in February 2021, a series of nationwide protests, a general strike and civil disobedience campaigns including those led by civil servants occurred, leading to what was called the “Spring Revolution”.
The junta reacted by attacking the resistance through a counter-insurgency strategy that targeted civilians and resistance forces by the use of state terror – the burning of entire villages, schools and small towns besides using aerial attacks against its own population.
Junta’s punitive action against ethnic rebels led to refugees fleeing into Mizoram
It is noteworthy to point out, writes Ramani “that the junta’s first punitive action against ethnic armed organisations was targeted at those in Chin State in October 2021, an initiative that failed but resulted in several refugees fleeing to Mizoram and Manipur in India. While New Delhi passed strictures not to open camps or provide assistance, the Mizoram government defied the Union government’s order to deport the refugees and allowed them to take shelter. The Mizo people regard those from the Chin community as ethnic brethren. The influx of refugees in Manipur has heightened the ethnic conflict between the Kuki-Zo community and the majority Meiteis in the State.”
Role being played by China
The net effect of “Operation 1027” and its aftermath has been a greater consolidation of post-coup rebel forces in attacking junta units making the civil war into a multi-front battle. The junta has promised a counter-offensive to regain areas that are crucial to cross-border trade with China.
China, Myanmar’s closest ally, writes Raman “has leverage over some of the northern ethnic armed forces that are now engaged against the junta. While Beijing has publicly called for a cessation in hostilities, experts aver that the Chinese are willing to tolerate the actions as the rebels have evinced interest in reining in illicit activities such as ‘telecom scam centres’ in the Kokang zone for example.”
Possibility of more attacks by rebels: The the Kokang-based Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), has meanwhile, announced that it is planning to attack Laukkai township in Kokang and which is controlled by junta-affiliated militias and is also host to many cybercrime compounds. These illicit centres, according to Raman “have trapped thousands of Chinese nationals besides many from South East Asia in forcing them to carry out internet fraud, theft and cybercrime activities targeting Chinese citizens and others. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), however, suggests that China might rein in the groups once the ‘conflict drags on and threatens an extended period of instability’, especially since it has economic interests tied to the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor as part of the Belt and Road project.”
Asian and India: There are differences in the ASEAN grouping over the coup and the pro-democracy movement while India supports the restoration of democracy in principle but has not favoured any particular actor in the civil war.
Impact on India
Domestically, for India the influx of refugees from Myanmar, according to The Tribune “poses a challenge to India’s border security…..Around 5,000 civilians crossed over to Mizoram, which shares a 510-km-long porous border with Myanmar, after fresh violence erupted in the neighbouring country recently. Most of them have returned to Myanmar, according to the Mizoram police.
“This is a critical time for this northeastern state, which went to the polls on November 7 and will have a new government early next month. There is a possibility that anti-India elements would try to capitalise on the mayhem in Myanmar to foment trouble in Mizoram and elsewhere in the North-East. Neighbouring Manipur has been on the boil for the past over six months, with ethnic clashes claiming more than 180 lives…….”
Calling for the cessation of violence in the wake of airstrikes at the India-Myanmar border, New Delhi has emphasised the importance of resolving the conflict through a constructive dialogue and facilitating an early return of peace, stability and democracy in Myanmar. India, writes The Tribune “needs to keep a close watch on the developments in view of its security and geopolitical interests. Also, New Delhi must take cognisance of the fact that Myanmar’s military has lost control of some sections of the border with China in recent weeks. With Beijing being an important stakeholder in the region and also a hostile neighbour, India cannot afford to let its guard down.”