New Delhi, March 30: The Union home ministry is searching for ways to control, if not totally block, the free flow of sophisticated arms and ammunition from Southeast Asian countries to militant outfits of the Northeast.
The banned Ulfa had used a rocket-propelled grenade to blow up an oil-storage tank at the Digboi Refinery early this month, reminding Delhi of the firepower it possesses and the role of foreign gunrunners in the growth of insurgency in the region.
A source in the Union home ministry said it was almost impossible to cut off the supply chain. “Some tribes that inhabit the fringe areas of the countries bordering the Northeast sell weapons for a living. Anybody can procure these weapons for a good price. The worst part is that governments have no control over these communities.”
The groups that have traditionally been involved in gunrunning are the Rohingya refugees settled at Cox Bazar in Bangladesh, the Karen and Wa tribes of Myanmar and the Khmer Rouge guerrillas of Cambodia. Though the Karen rebels based in Kachin province of Myanmar have arrived at an agreement with the junta, they continue to have a nexus with insurgent outfits of the Northeast.
The areas along Myanmar’s border with China and Thailand constitute the hub of the gunrunning racket.
“Insurgent groups of the Northeast have unrestricted access to Chinese-made weapons, though it cannot be said with certainty that Beijing has been deliberately overlooking the nexus. The situation in Southeast Asia is also conducive to flow of arms into the region,” the home ministry source said.
The border areas of Myanmar are infamous for trading in opium and the possibility of drug barons being involved in gunrunning cannot be discounted, he added.
Chinese assistance to militant groups active in the Northeast began in the late 60s, when training camps were set up in Yunnan province of South China. The first group to receive training was a 353-strong band of Naga guerrillas led by NSCN (I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and Thinoselie Keyho in 1967. The People’s Liberation Army of Manipur followed suit.
The camps were busted following a policy shift in China in the late 70s and emergence of a new order under Deng Xiaoping.
Expressing concern over the flow of arms into the region, Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh said insurgent outfits were spoilt for choice. He claimed that Bangladeshi and Myanmarese officials were part of the racket. “They look the other way because militants operating from their countries pay huge amounts of money.”
Apart from gunrunners, the ISI is believed to be supporting militant outfits of the region as part of its anti-India strategy.
“There is no doubt that militants enjoy the support of foreign agencies and have free access to their countries. How else would you explain the arrest and almost immediate release of a top leader of the United National Liberation Front in Myanmar last year'” a home ministry official asked.