| A militant communicates via radio telephone within a stone’s throw of the Myanmar border with Arunachal Pradesh. Picture by Samir K. Purkayastha
A stone juts out from the thick undergrowth of the forest, its edges blunted by the vagaries of nature. The stone, however, does not have any umbilical link with the Patkai hill ranges. It is just the “official” demarcation between India and Myanmar, the lone sentinel on an international boundary avoided by border forces of both countries.
The open border in the picture-postcard setting holds the key to the many mutinies afflicting the Northeast. Leaders of several insurgent outfits revealed to The Telegraph that everything the rebels need in their jungle camps — from rations to arms — are transhipped through the porous border without anyone to stop them.
A self-styled lieutenant of a Manipur-based militant outfit disclosed that even heavy-duty arms like assault rifles and light machine guns are smuggled from the council headquarters of the NSCN (K) at Tenup Tephak Joku Valley in Myanmar to places as far as Manipur on trucks and buses.
The NSCN-K shares its council headquarters with several militant outfits, including the Ulfa, the People’s Liberation Army, the United National Liberation Front and the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Prepak).
The modus operandi for smuggling, according to the lieutenant, is simple.
“From the council headquarters, we ferry arms to villages on the Indian side on foot. From there, we take the arms to Guwahati on private vehicles. From Guwahati, it is easy to take arms to wherever in India we want to,” he said.
There are other routes taken by the rebels to carry arms and ammunition, mainly the one through Tamu in Myanmar, bordering Manipur. It is, therefore, not surprising that the camps of militant outfits are always stocked with rations and other items. One outfit has even set up a medical camp for villagers of the area. The security bandobast just a few kilometres into Indian territory looks menacing.
During the one-and-a-half hour journey by road from Changlang in Arunachal Pradesh to Margherita in Assam, one has to cross two army checkposts and an inner-line permit checkpost manned by Arunachal Pradesh police.
Gun-toting army jawans line up travellers by the side of the road and frisk them. They also thoroughly examine every piece of clothing in bags and suitcases. To enter Changlang district, a special innerline permit from the deputy commissioner of the district is required, but the formality has become a farce. Any taxi driver who regularly travels between Margherita and Changlang can take his passengers past the checkpost by just giving the police a bottle of whisky or a few bucks.
“For the government, these areas exist only on the map,” an Ulfa functionary said.
As for communication, nothing could have been more farcical than the fuss the defence ministry was making until recently over extension of the mobile telephone network in the region.
Sitting in the dense jungles of the Patkai ranges in Sagaing division of Myanmar, members of various militant outfits regularly communicate with their comrades and bosses over radio transmitters. The top guns, such as NSCN (K) chief S.S. Khaplang, carry satellite phones with which they can call up anybody anywhere in the world.