Burma resumes crackdown on Naga guerillas

Naga separatist guerillas in India’s remote northeast are once again being hunted down by the authorities in neighboring Burma (Myanmar), where they had previously been granted refuge. This appears to be leading to a two-front insurgency in which the Naga separatists are seeking an independent state straddling the current Burma-India border. On Jan. 10, Naga guerilla leaders claimed to have killed seven Burmese soldiers while losing three rebel fighters in a heavy gun battle in Burmese territory.

A spokesman of the SS Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) said fighting broke out Jan. 8 between the guerrillas and Burmese government troops in a thickly forested area of Burma’s northern Sagaing Division.

“We have killed seven Myanmarese army soldiers in the gunfight. Three of our guerrilla fighters were also shot dead in the fight that is still continuing inside Myanmar,” a senior NSCN-K leader told the Indo-Asian News Service by telephone from an undisclosed location near the border.

The NSCN-K is said to have at least 50 camps with some 7,000 fighters entrenched in fortified bunkers in Burma. “The soldiers overran one of our key bases in the area and seized a number of small weapons, ammunition, and other important documents from the camp,” the guerilla spokesman said. “Our leader Khaplang is very much safe.”

Burma launched a massive military offensive backed by a brigade of about 3,500 soldiers in December to evict Naga separatists based in Sagaing Division.

The NSCN-K had claimed to have lost three of their cadres in the first round of military assault last month, with two of their camps demolished by advancing soldiers. There was no confirmation of the clashes from the Burmese authorities.

At least four other militant groups from India’s northeast, where numerous tribal and ethnic groups are fighting for greater autonomy or independence, have training camps in northern Myanmar’s thick jungles – all of them sheltered there under the patronage of the NSCN-K.

Among the Indian separatist armies operating out of Burma are the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK).

The NSCN’s Khaplang faction has been observing a ceasefire with New Delhi since 2001, although peace talks are yet to begin.

This is the third major Burmaese crackdown on the Naga guerillas. The last was early last year, when NSCN-K camps were routed and several Naga fighters killed. The first was in 2000, when at least a dozen guerillas were killed.

India and Burma share a 1,640-km border in remote, forested and mountainous territory, allowing separatist guerillas from the northeast to use the adjoining country as a staging ground.

The rebels say they are seeking to protect their ethnic identities and accuse the Delhi government of unfairly exploiting the timber, mineral and oil resources of the region. More than 50,000 people have lost their lives to fighting in the northeast since India’s independence in 1947. (IANS via WebIndia123.com, Jan. 10)

See our last posts on indigenous struggles in India, the Naga insurgency and Burma.