Guest Column

Myanmar Chin Armed Group’s Rivalry With Indian Rebel Outfits Dates Back Decades

By Rajeev Bhattacharyya 15 February 2022

The enmity between the Chin National Army (CNA) and some rebel outfits from India’s northeast can be traced to an episode nearly three decades ago when the Indian army launched Operation Golden Bird to thwart the transshipment of a huge quantity of weapons from Bangladesh.  

Early in 1995, a combined squad of nearly 170 rebel functionaries belonging to three banned outfits from India’s northeast—the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF)—had embarked upon a perilous operation of ferrying a large consignment of weapons from Bangladesh to Manipur. The weapons comprised assault rifles, pistols, universal machine guns, grenades and ammunition.   

The rebels’ route was mainly through the rugged hills of Chin State in Myanmar. Their plan was to chart a track from Bangladesh to Myanmar through the Indian state of Mizoram which links up the two countries.  

It was estimated by the rebel groups that the journey would last no longer than three weeks but the guides who belonged to the PLA became confused about the route after they set foot in Myanmar. So some senior members of the CNA whom they chanced upon in a village in Chin State were asked to show the accurate route leading to Manipur.  

The CNA, which was formed in 2008, is the armed wing of the Chin National Front.  It is active mainly in Myanmar’s Chin State and it aims at securing the self-determination of the Chin people, the  restoration of democracy, and establishing a federal union in Myanmar.

The CNA was willing to assist the rebel outfits from India’s northeast, but only if a part of the consignment was given to them. The groups were unwilling to accept the demand. They forged ahead with the journey but on an erroneous route, which was to have an adverse impact within a few days.  

Upset over the arrogant gesture of the groups, the CNA informed the Indian army and security agencies about their movements in Myanmar.  

Diwakar Moran, an over ground ULFA militant who had his hand pierced by a bullet after an encounter with the Myanmar army. / Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Brigadier (Retired) Rumel Dahiya, who was one of the two Indian army commanders entrusted with Operation Golden Bird, said the CNA provided information about the actual movements of the insurgent group through certain places and confirmation of their engagement with Myanmar Army columns. 

“Such information was mostly received late and was not, therefore actionable. CNA also claimed that they had killed six insurgents and captured six weapons when they caught the tail of their column while moving in Myanmar territory. CNA also intimated the general area on the border from where the remaining insurgents of PLA-led group crossed into Manipur,” explained Brig. (Retd) Dahiya.    

He believes that the CNA might have provided the information as they “wanted to be rewarded with weapons and money in return for their help. It is also possible that they were looking for a safe haven in Mizoram as and when they came under pressure from Myanmar Army.”

Brig. (Retd) Dahiya’s version tallies with the accounts given by two over ground militants of the ULFA who participated in the journey and are currently based in Assam. Diwakar Moran, who had his hand pierced by a bullet after an encounter with the Myanmar army, and Biju Deka, who was in charge of the medical unit during the operation, were in no doubt that the CNA had fed the Indian army details about the movement of the rebel groups after it failed to strike a deal.   

Deka, who has also written a book in Assamese on his experiences in the ULFA, mentioned that the meeting with the CNA was held on March 25 in Myanmar, 10 days after the trek began in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. He pointed out that the ULFA and PLA suffered a severe depletion in their ranks after being ambushed repeatedly by the armies of India and Myanmar before reaching the destination at Manipur. Operation Golden Bird was officially terminated on May 21.  

The CNA was in the news last month for carrying out an attack on a PLA camp in Senam in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region. In all probability, the attack was prompted by the CNA’s willingness to strike at a group believed to be collaborating with the Tatmadaw against the People’s Defense Forces (PDFs).   

There has been a spate of reports alleging that Myanmar’s military regime has been making increasing use of some insurgent groups from India’s northeast against civilian resistance groups in Myanmar. Many of these Indian separatist groups already had camps and training facilities in Myanmar that existed through a tacit understanding with a section of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military).  

According to an estimate, at least 70 CNA functionaries were killed during fighting with the Myanmar military between 1988 and 2012.  The group was opposed to the Constitution framed in 2008 but signed a ceasefire with the government in 2012.  

After the coup last year, the CNA’s ranks have reportedly swelled with new recruits, who are being trained at facilities in various locations. It has joined hands with other PDFs active in Chin State to conduct coordinated attacks against the Tatmadaw. 

Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Assam, India.

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