Burma-Indo Border Market Threatened by Indian Insurgents

By Zarni Mann 5 July 2013

MANDALAY — Two Indian border traders were temporarily detained Thursday on the Indo-Burma border by members of an Indian insurgency who attempted to rob them, in the latest attack that has left traders and shop owners in the area calling for improved security.

The Indian traders say they were detained by two men, suspected members of an Indian insurgency, while shopping at Nant Pha Lon Market in the Burmese border town of Tamu, in northwest Burma’s Sagaing Division. They say they were held in a store and threatened for money, but were then freed after local youths in the town called security, prompting their attackers to escape.

“We were told that we had to give them between 200,000 and 500,000 Indian rupees [US $3,300 and $8,300], depending on the size of our business, otherwise our children would be killed and our shops would be bombed,” said one of the traders, who asked to remain anonymous.

The traders and local residents say the suspects belonged to the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), a Manipuri insurgent group that operates around the Indo-Burma border, especially in Burma’s Tamu area.

“Since they’re based in the Tamu area, on Burmese soil, our Indian authorities couldn’t do anything,” said the trader, who has worked on the border for 25 years. “I’m sure they were not Burmese people but were from the Manipuri insurgency group.”

“Thanks to the Burmese youth, we are free—but still not safe,” he added. “We just want the Burmese government and local authorities to give us protection.”

Local residents say similar incidents have happened frequently and the local authorities have failed to offer security.

Shop owners at the Nant Pha Lon Market have shuttered their stores and said on Thursday they worried the entire market would close in the following days.

“If they treat the Indian traders like this, nobody knows what will happen to us,” a Burmese shop owner told The Irrawaddy. “We can’t tell if we will be threatened the same way. We’re worried our market will close because people are afraid.

“This is not the first time. There are about five to six Indian insurgency groups operating around this area, and each group gives us different problems. If things like this happen, authorities tighten up security for a while but later relax like always, and there’s a lack of security and protection, as before.”

Local traders say they worry further attacks could threaten border trade.

“Ten years ago, there were many Indian wholesale traders who came to the area, and business was quite good because we could deal directly with the traders,” another shop owner said. “But because of these kinds of problems, the wholesalers don’t dare come here alone now—they let retailers buy things for them, which can increase the price of commodities.

“In this situation, how can traders sell their goods for a good price? In this way, the market will be broken and there no more traders will do business with us. The authorities must control the situation effectively.”

Border traders have cited similar incidents in the past, accusing insurgents of beating porters and dragging Indian traders into deserted corners of stores, threatening them with violence and demanding money.

“We have submitted appeals to the President’s Office in Naypyidaw and to the state government several times, but we haven’t received any information yet,” another Burmese shop owner said. “We can only approach our government, not India, because this is happening on our land. These thug-like people from the other country are bullying on our soil and affecting Burma’s image.”

Local authorities declined to comment.

Nant Pha Lon Market includes more than 1,000 shops that sell basic commodities, rice and clothing, often to Indian traders who bring the goods back to India’s Manipur State via the Tamu-Moreh border highway. Medicine, dyes and cotton are often brought to Burma from India.

The Indian government and Indian media say Manipuri insurgencies, including the KCP, operate in Tamu and other areas in northwest Burma. However, the Burmese government has said these groups are not allowed to operate on Burmese soil.