While the Government of India always maintains that there is no border dispute along the Manipur-Myanmar sector of international boundary and a high-level meeting of the Government chaired by Manipur Chief Minister recently discussed about resumption of fencing at Moreh along the Indo-Myanmar boundary, the matter of past differences over the border between Manipur and Myanmar has resurfaced once again.
While many civil society organisations in Manipur and border villagers have always cried foul over the border dispute between Manipur and Myanmar, the Government of India on August 1, 2018 had said there was no border dispute between India and Myanmar and the demarcation at nine pillars was being worked out in complete understanding with the neighbouring country.
Reports quoting the Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju said a high-level Central team has already visited the spot and reported that there is no dispute on the issue.
On August 1, 2018 replying to supplementary questions during Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha, Kiren Rijiju said the Indo-Myanmar boundary was 1,472 km long, out of which 171 km is to be demarcated through a boundary mechanism which both the countries have established. There were some nine border pillars which are to be identified and erected.
It was reported that in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha, the Minister of State for Home said the Indo-Myanmar boundary has been settled as per the provisions of the India-Myanmar Boundary Agreement, 1967, but the groundwork for demarcation, including that of nine unsettled boundary pillars along the border in the Manipur sector, remains to be completed.
However, recent media reports said, this time the border dispute between Manipur and Myanmar has been again triggered in Kamjong district after Myanmar laid claims over the area of K Ashang Khullen Aze village, Kamjong district.
There are three border pillars (No. 91, 92 and 93) in the areas of K Ashang Khullen Aze village between India and Myanmar.
Reports said some people of K Ashang Khullen Aze village started construction of houses and other structures near the border pillars sometime back, but chiefs and villagers of neighbouring Myanmar villages came to the site with men of the Myanmar army and prohibited all construction works.
While the local villagers have been claiming that the site where they started construction of houses is located around 500 metres away from the border pillars within Manipur territory, the Myanmar army has contended that the site falls on the Indo-Myanmar boundary.
As appealed by the Myanmar army officers who came with the Myanmar villagers and village chiefs to halt the construction activities, until an amicable solution is reached between competent authorities of the two countries, all construction activities have been suspended.
In the meantime, K Ashang Khullen Aze Village Authority has appealed to Phungyar AC MLA and Hill Areas Committee Chairman, K Leishiyo to make a spot assessment of the situation.
As requested by the village authority, the HAC Chairman accompanied by Kamjong DC Worshong, Kasom SDO David, ADC Members Somimayar AS, Wungreiyo NS, Ukhrul ADC Vice-Chairman M Isaac, TNAL Chairman Shomi Angkang, TNZL Chairman Joshua K and Major KK of Assam Rifles Kasung post went to the contested site on January 20 this year, reports added.
Community bodies and headmen of villages located on either side of the international boundary were also present when they made the spot assessment.
Headmen of Manipur villages located near the international border said that the old BP No. 7 (new No. 93) was shifted one Km towards India from its original position by the Myanmar authority sometime back.
Around 100 Kms of India-Myanmar boundary pass through Kamjong district. Cutting and paving of a road which would reach the site selected for development of a trade centre at K Ashang Khullen Aze village just across Myanmar has been completed.
Cutting of a new road which would connect the trade centre with the markets of Namli and Wangli has also begun. All these sites would be a big ‘land opportunity’ for younger generations and the Government of India needs to resolve the border controversy at the earliest, K Leishiyo said.
If FMR (Free Movement Regime) is enforced between India and Myanmar, people of India would be allowed to move 16 Kms inside the territory of Myanmar and vice versa.
A huge employment avenue can be created if FMR is enforced and more trade centres are opened in Kamjong district, he said. Saying that there are six trade centres in Mizoram and 5/6 trade centres in Tripura at their international borders, Leishiyo asked if there is any reason for not opening more trade centres in Manipur at the international border between India and Myanmar.
Meanwhile, a high level meeting held January 22 with Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren in the chair discussed the resumption of fencing at Moreh along the India-Myanmar border.
The meeting which was also attended by Ministry of Home Affairs Joint Secretary (North East in-charge), Piyush Goyal, studied resumption of the 10 Kms border fencing work at Moreh which was abandoned midway a couple of years back.
The meeting was also attended by the Chief Secretary, Additional DGP, officials of Home Department, security agencies, Deputy Commissioners of Tengnoupal and Senapati, reports said.
The border fencing work was abandoned following several complaints of loss of Manipur’s territory as a result of constructing the fence. So far, 3 Kms of the international border has been fenced.
Reports said MHA Joint Secretary, Piyush Goyal was supposed to visit Moreh and make a direct assessment of the border fence but he left for Shillong instead as there was a meeting of the North Eastern Council at Shillong which would be attended by the Union Home Minister also.
It may be mentioned that controversy over the construction of a boundary pillar in the Moreh subdivision of Manipur, along the India-Myanmar border, had triggered widespread public outcry in the state in 2018 also. The residents of the border village of Kwatha Khunou alleged that the Indian government moved a border pillar about three km into Manipur, triggering opposition from several civil society organisations and political parties as it would mean “giving away” the state’s land to Myanmar. Many civil society organisations including United Committee, Manipur (UCM) also alleged in the local media that the controversial pillar No. 81 was set up inside Manipur because New Delhi “gave up” its land during the border survey conducted in early 2018.
The construction of subsidiary border pillars in Moreh commenced in May 2018 after completion of the border survey undertaken by India and Myanmar governments in order to sort out issues of land dispute between the two countries.
Reacting to the allegations, the Union Ministry of External Affairs, however, issued a statement on July 8, 2018 denying it. The statement said, “We have come across media reports stating that certain boundary pillars in the Manipur sector of the India-Myanmar international boundary have been allegedly shifted. These reports are completely baseless and unsubstantiated. This sector of the international boundary is settled and there is no confusion as to its alignment.”
The statement also reportedly said that the border survey was conducted “keeping with the India-Myanmar Boundary Agreement of 1967”. It added, “Recently, routine survey work has been carried out jointly by the Indian and Myanmar survey departments during which work on construction of subsidiary pillars in between already settled main boundary pillars 81 and 82 along zero line, that is, agreed and settled international boundary, has also been undertaken. This has been done with the objective of apprising the local residents on both sides of the border of the exact alignment of the international boundary.”
However, not many are willing to accept the government’s contention. Until and unless the controversies over Manipur-Myanmar border are resolved on the ground taking into account historical facts and lived experiences of the people of Manipur for once and all, border dispute between Manipur and India along Indo-Myanmar international boundary will continue to recur it seems.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics