Why the Claim That the Indian Army Killed 83 Militants During its Operation in Myanmar Doesn’t Stand Up To Scrutiny

21 June 2015
On 9 June 2015, the Indian army reportedly engaged in a cross-border attack in Myanmar in response to a militant attack in Manipur earlier this month. A map prepared by an intelligence agency in 2008 showing the locations of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) camps in Myanmar.
On 9 June 2015, the Indian army reportedly engaged in a cross-border attack in Myanmar in response to a militant attack in Manipur earlier this month. A map prepared by an intelligence agency in 2008 showing the locations of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) camps in Myanmar.

A little more than a week ago, the Indian army reportedly engaged in a cross-border attack on the insurgent organisations that were believed to have been responsible for the ambush on an army vehicle on 4 June 2015. The outfits that had reportedly executed the strike included the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K)—a Myanmar-based insurgent group also active in the northeast of India—the Kanglei Yawo Kannal Lup (KYKL) and a faction of Kangleipak Communist Party, both from Manipur. However, the outfits that came under attack of the Indian army in retaliation were the NSCN-K and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), also a rebel group from Manipur. Both these organisations are close allies that have been campaigning for the independence of the northeast and contiguous Naga areas in Myanmar.

Shortly after the ambush by the Indian army, reports quoting official sources indicated that at least 83 insurgents were killed during the operation in Myanmar, across camps in Manipur and Nagaland. But a close scrutiny of the ground reality along with the estimates of officials and a section of the rebel outfits reveals a different situation.

Furthermore, while it is true that the army conducted cross-border strikes in two places across Nagaland and Manipur, an enquiry into these incidents suggests the locations at which the strikes were conducted were barely two to three kilometres from the border. According to some of the functionaries from rebel outfits that I spoke to, most of the insurgents who were killed during the attack were not from the NSCN-K, KCP or the KYKL. They were from the PLA, which had a mobile camp across Manipur’s Chandel district.

To understand why the claims made by a section of government officials don’t stand up to scrutiny it is necessary to understand that this region of Myanmar is home to around 60 rebel camps, both big and small, that cover a wide region contiguous to the northeast. These camps belong to nine separatist outfits—the NSCN-K; the anti-talks faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA); the PLA; the United National Liberation Front (UNLF); the People’s Republican Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK); the PREPAK (Progressive), a faction of KCP; and the KYKL— which exist in addition to the hideouts of militant groups that are over ground and currently engaged in a peace process with the Indian government.

When I visited some of these camps in Myanmar between 2008 and 2012, I noticed that they could broadly be divided into two categories: those that are situated in the northern Sagaing Division under the control of the NSCN-K, and those that are located in areas adjacent to the border districts of Manipur where infrastructure such as roads and electricity has been developed by the government of Myanmar.

Rajeev Bhattacharya is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men.

COMMENT