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New Delhi: The Chin National Front (CNF), the ethnic political organisation of Myanmar’s Chin state which is aiding the pro-democracy Peoples Defence Forces (PDF) to resist that country’s military, has accused the Manipur-based armed group Zomi Revolutionary Organisation (ZRO)/Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) of joining hands with the Junta in order to crush their movement, according to The Irrawaddy.
The northeastern armed group is part of the formal talks with the Narendra Modi government since 2017 to arrive at a peace deal.
The allegation, made by CNF spokesperson Salat Htet Ni in an interview with The Irrawaddy, has come after it had also accused some Meitei groups of Manipur operating from the border areas of Myanmar of joining hands with the Junta to fight their forces.
When categorically asked if the Myanmar Junta is mobilising separatist groups from Northeast India to crush resistance groups in the Chin state, the CNF spokesperson said, “Yes, it is true. Earlier, the regime also did the same in Kale and Tamu towns in Sagaing region bordering India.”
CNF is accusing ZRO/ZRA of helping out the Myanmar Junta particularly in the Tedim Township of the Chin state.
Following the coup in February 2021 in Mayanmar, a fierce fight has ensued between the combined forces of the PDF and various ethnic groups and the Junta in different parts of the country. The pro-democracy resistance groups have been joined by the ethnic groups with military wings including CNF which also has its military arm, the Chin National Army (CAN). The continuous fight has thus pushed thousands of people to flee their homes. Hundreds of conflict-affected families from the Chin state have slipped into the Indian border state of Mizoram too to take refuge.
The Northeast Indian armed group ZRO/ZRA – in suspension of operations (SOO) in Manipur after signing a ceasefire agreement with the Union Ministry for Home Affairs (MHA) in 2008 – is part of the United People’s Front (UPF) and Kuki National Organisation (KNO) talks initiated by the Modi government in August 2017.
The group, now over-ground, is active in the Churachandpur district of Manipur that borders Myanmar. The arterial road that runs through Churachandpur (Lamka) town, the district headquarters, leads to Tedim town of Myanmar’s Chin state where the anti-Junta forces have accused the northeastern Indian armed group to have clashed with them.
According to the report in The Irrawaddy, the Indian armed group has been engaging in clashes with the combined forces of the PDF in Tedim Township after having “reached an understanding with the junta”. The news report also said, “But the group (ZRA) has denied working for any army or dictatorial government.”
Note that the ethnicity of the people of the Chin state is similar to not just the Mizos of Mizoram but also of the Zomi population of Churachandpur. The ZRA/ZRO has been demanding either a separate state for the Zomi people sliced out of Manipur or an autonomous district council on the lines of the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) of Assam. The CNF spokesperson highlighted that kinship between the people of Tedim and that part of Manipur, to claim that the group has been increasingly “threatening” them in that area as ‘eastern ZRO’.
“They (ZRO-ZRA) have a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government and operate as people’s militia in India. But they also operate in Myanmar, where they are known as eastern ZRO,” Salai Hetet Ni said. He added, “Zomi tribes live in Tedim as well as India. As they operate as the eastern ZRO in Myanmar, they have always threatened us to make withdraw from our strongholds. We have done nothing to them. But when we conducted clearance operations with local resistance groups (in Tedim), we encountered them, which resulted in a clash (this past January).”
He claimed that the outfit has been “threatening” them since 1995 to withdraw from Tedim. “At that time, they were not yet based on the Myanmar side of the border. We made Tedim our base after reaching an agreement with the previous military Junta,” he claimed.
Significantly, the CNF spokesperson told The Irrawaddy, “They (ZRO/ZRA) have become more active in 2020 and 2021. They have abducted some of our troops, detained them for a while and told them not to stay in Tedim.” Such actions, he added, led the CNF and the PDF to carry out “clearance operations to protect our region and our troops.”
According to the newspaper, the eastern ZRO had formed a “battalion” this past January 16 to fight alongside the Myanmar army. “One of the reasons why we clashed with ZRA is that, before the clash, we learnt that they often visit Myanmar military units based in Tedim. They carried out two mine attacks on our CNF office which was opened after we signed the NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the previous military Junta).”
Asked if the CNF would engage in talks with the ZRO/ZRA to sort out their differences, he said, “It depends on their stance. But it will be very difficult for us to hold talks with them given the fact that they have apparently reached an understanding with the military regime. Under the current situation, we have no plans to hold talks with them. But we will be sad if people are harmed due to the clashes. We will try our best to stand by the people.”
The Wire tried to reach out to ZRO/ZRA leaders of Manipur in talks with the Indian government for a comment on the allegations but failed to get a response. If any response comes, it will be added.
Meanwhile, the CNF spokesperson also stated why their forces had clashed with other armed groups from Manipur too in Tonzang township of the Chin state in mid-January. “We don’t accept foreign armed groups growing (opium) poppy on our land. It is our national duty to prevent it. Some groups are doing drug business after reaching an understanding with the military regime. The clashes happened when we carried out security operations there.”
Armed groups from the Meitei community of Manipur active in Myanmar, such as the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), are banned in India. In November 2021, the PLA was involved in the ambush of an army convoy leading to the death of an army colonel officiating as the commanding officer of the 46 Assam Rifles along with his wife and six-year-old son besides four other security personnel in the Churachandpur district.
The CNF spokesperson was quoted in the news report stating, “We, CNF and local resistance groups, will work together and try our best to prevent that from happening. We will not just stand by and watch when the military is cooperating with rebel groups from another country.”