Border disputes in the northeast are usually associated with China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh and alleged intrusion by Chinese soldiers.
The 1,643-km border with Myanmar along Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram often has more to do with smuggling of drugs, gold and wildlife body parts, as well as raids by the northeastern extremist groups from their hideouts beyond the boundary.
The spotlight is on this frontier for alleged incursions by Myanmar soldiers.
Where is the incursion?
Villagers along Manipur’s border say incursions are nothing new. For instance, Myanmar nationals have been occupying Govajang village near the trade town of Moreh in Tengnoupal district, the predominantly Thadou people of the area say. But the aggression has increased over the past six months.
The action has been in the newly created Tengnoupal district, though the other three border districts — Chandel, Kamjong and Ukhrul — have issues too. According to the United Naga Council (UNC) of Manipur, an umbrella socio-economic and cultural group of the Naga tribes, Myanmar soldiers on April 29 vandalised a saw mill in Tengnoupal’s H. Lhangcham, a Maring Naga-inhabited village between border pillars 75 and 76. Two days later,
Myanmar soldiers raided N. Satsang and Choktong, also in Tengnoupal, and made 62 tribal families flee. They dismantled the Indian boundary pillar number 82 and planted their own. These villages are within 10 km north of Moreh.
The latest incident was reported from Kwatha Khunou further north, near where border pillar 81 used to stand. Notably, only a 10-km stretch (Moreh area) of the India-Myanmar border is fenced.
What does Delhi say?
The External Affairs Ministry has said India has not shifted pillars demarcating the border with Myanmar and the boundary is settled and there is no confusion over its alignment. Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has said his government has formed a high-power committee to investigate the incursions; it will seek a fresh survey if any discrepancy is found.
But UNC leader Gaidon Kamei said Myanmar soldiers and civilians have illegally occupied a large chunk of land on the Manipur side of the boundary from pillar number 81 to 88.
A Congress team that visited Kwatha Khunou a fortnight ago found a subsidiary Myanmar pillar 100 metres in India from pillar 81. The team also found Burmese graffiti and a symbol of Myanmar flag on the base of a tree that the Meitei people worship as a deity and claimed that Myanmar took over half of Molfei village inhabited by the Kuki. Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, who was in Manipur at that time, insisted that there was no border dispute.
The Congress and some NGOs took it as admission that India gifted land to “please Myanmar, whose rulers are getting closer to China.” Why then do Assam Rifles soldiers stop people from inspecting the border and why don’t Indian surveyors visit the area, they ask.
Is history responsible?
The BJP had earlier blamed Manipur’s boundary problem with Myanmar on Jawaharlal Nehru for not claiming the Kabaw Valley (in Myanmar) during demarcation in 1947.
In the medieval ages, Manipur and Burmese kings often wrested the valley from each other until the British defeated the Burmese and signed the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. But the valley was returned to Burma in the second treaty of 1834 and a boundary line between British India and Burma was drawn by Captain R.B. Pemberton.
The Pemberton Line had left out certain restive Kuki areas that were included in a rectified boundary in 1881 called Johnstone Line. The boundary was redrawn again in 1896 to have 38 pillars and be known as Maxwell or Pemberton-Johnstone-Maxwell Line.
But Burma never participated in these exercises until India and Burma became independent. After negotiations started in 1953, both ratified the 1896 line via the Rangoon Agreement on March 10, 1967.
Border residents in Manipur hope New Delhi makes it clear to Myanmar that history needs to be respected.