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3 Jan, 2024 07:52

India to end free border crossing with eastern neighbor – media

Seven Indian security personnel were wounded during a gun battle with suspected insurgents near border with Myanmar on Tuesday
India to end free border crossing with eastern neighbor – media

New Delhi is considering ending the Free Movement Regime (FMR) at the Indo-Myanmar border, which allows people residing on either side to cross 16 km into each other’s territory without a visa, Indian media reported on Wednesday, citing government sources. 

The move comes against the backdrop of fighting between the Myanmar military and armed groups that started in October and has spread to over two-thirds of the country, according to the UN.

The fighting has caused mass displacement, with thousands of immigrants entering India, reportedly increasing risks that the country will be infiltrated by militant groups and more exposed to drug and gold smugglers. The free border regime also allowed insurgent groups in India’s northeastern states to carry out attacks and flee towards Myanmar, government officials believe.

According to the Indian Express, the country’s central government has decided to solicit bids for an advanced smart fencing system for the entire length of the India-Myanmar border, sources said. “The fencing will be completed in the next 4.5 years. Anyone coming through will have to get a visa,” the source told the outlet.

The development comes a day after Indian security personnel came under attack in Moreh, a town located along the strife-torn 398-km-long international border, which separates the Indian state of Manipur from Myanmar. The state government said on Tuesday that it suspects the involvement of “mercenaries from Myanmar” in the attack. In a separate incident, four security personnel were injured in a gunfight with suspected insurgents in Moreh last week.

In the aftermath of the Tuesday incident, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh promised to take “all possible countermeasures” and said that the state government has reached out to the federal government to discuss these developments. In September 2023, Singh urged the federal government to permanently cancel the free movement regime along the Indo-Myanmar border in order to curb illegal immigration.

Manipur shares around 390 km of its border with Myanmar, of which only about 10 km is fenced. Last month, Singh stated that around 6,000 people from Myanmar are taking shelter in Manipur due to a new wave of fighting between the country’s military and militant groups, which has raged for the past several months.

While he said that shelter “cannot be denied to those seeking it on ethnic grounds,” he also stressed the need to ramp up security measures such as the usage of “biometric systems” in the areas bordering Myanmar.

The terrain at the India-Myanmar border is considered vulnerable due to insufficient military infrastructure and is frequently hit by insurgent groups from both countries. Due to the porous nature of this stretch of the border, the same militant groups have been able to develop a strong presence in both countries.

The situation at the border risks threatening general security in the state, which has been hit by ethnic violence since May this year. At least 175 people were killed in the clashes and tens of thousands were displaced.

On Monday, four civilians were killed and two sustained severe injuries in the Lilong Chingjao area. The state and federal governments have been working to curtail the violence through curfews, internet suspensions, and the deployment of additional security personnel.

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