Myanmar crisis: Caught between army and rebel group, refugees in Mizoram hope for better future but are reluctant to return

Myanmar refugees in Mizoram who were evicted from their homes late in November are reluctant to return to their villages as they fear escalation of conflict between the Myanmar Army and a rebel outfit called the Arakan Army.

The repatriation, which was planned last week, had to be stalled after large scale opposition from members of the displaced Zhakai community (as identified by locals). They are Buddhist tribals belonging to the Chin community and speak the same language as the Lai in Mizoram who are mainly Christians.

 Myanmar crisis: Caught between army and rebel group, refugees in Mizoram hope for better future but are reluctant to return

A community hall in Lawngtlai (Mizoram) where some Myanmarese Refugees have been Rehabilitated Credit Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Lawngtlai deputy commissioner Arun T said that village councils have been approached to convince the refugees to return to their villages. An official in Mizoram police said some migrants expressed a willingness to return home after a few weeks, depending on the situation.

Around 1,600 Myanmar refugees have been rehabilitated in Lawngtlai district, about 280 kilometres south of Mizoram’s capital Aizawl, after they crossed the border to the northeastern state on 25 November.

Most of them who did not have relatives across the border were put up in school buildings and community halls in Zochachhuah, Laitlang, Dumzautlang and Hmawngchhuah across the district.

Relief including food and clothes were distributed to refugees by the district administration, Assam Rifles and local organisations such as Young Lai Association (YLA) and Mizoram Thalai Kristian Pawl (MTKP), the youth wing of the Baptist Church of Mizoram.

The crisis erupted at Paletwa after 11 soldiers of the Myanmar Army were reportedly killed on the Kaladan river after being ambushed by the Arakan Army on the border of Myanmar's Chin and Rakhine State. The fierce encounter that subsequently followed affected several villages and forced inhabitants to flee.

Paletwa is located northeast of the Rohingya heartland in Rakhine State of Myanmar where the military has launched a crackdown following a raid on police outposts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) with the assistance of local villagers on August 25.

The subversive activities of the Arakan Army and the areas controlled by them is a cause of concern for India since the multi-crore Kaladan Multi Modal Project is being implemented in the region where the rebel group has been increasing its presence. The scheme, which aims at providing an outlet to the landlocked North East, has already suffered delays with some necessary approvals being held up by the Myanmar government. The disturbed conditions in Paletwa and the surrounding region could further retard its progress and all indications point to the resumption of hostilities sooner or later.

Arakan Army is a rebel outfit of local Buddhists founded on 10 April, 2009. It is the armed wing of the United League of Arakan, and led by its commander-in-chief Twan Mrat Naing. It has not yet signed the ceasefire agreement with Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s armed forces) and is part of an alliance of rebel armies called the Northern Alliance.

A report in The Irrawaddy said the Arakan Army joined the war against the Tatmadaw in Kokang and Kachin states where the “Arakan Army recruited many members in the jade mining area of Hpakant. Arakanese migrant workers in Mongla near the Chinese border and northern Shan State are also a source of recruitment for the group.”

Sources revealed that the rebels have been strengthening their base in at two locations along the border of Chin and Rakhine State for past two years. The current clashes began in the first week of November after the Tatmadaw moved large columns near the region where the rebel cadres have pitched tent.

“They (Arakan Army) have amassed quite a large quantity of weapons in a short span according to the inputs we have received and their cadre strength has also gone up. This is quite interesting since all these activities cost quite a lot of money,” the source explained. “The possibility of this group’s involvement in the narcotics trade cannot be ruled out,” the source added.

Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist based in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India’s Most Wanted Men

Updated Date: Jan 02, 2018 21:49:33 IST