NE sees sharp rise in narco smuggling, immigrant influx post Myanmar coup

NE sees sharp rise in narco smuggling, immigrant influx post Myanmar coup

IANS Photo

Aizawl/Imphal, January 7 (IANS) Of India’s 1,643 km unfenced porous borders with Myanmar, the frontiers with Mizoram (510 km) and Manipur (398 km) are most worrying as illegal influx of Myanmarese, drug peddling and cross-border movement of inimical elements including militants is on the rise.

The complex and the rising danger of drug trades and cross-border movement of inimical elements as well as violence-hit civilians have become more challenging for the Indian authorities especially after the 2021 February coup by the Myanmar military.

Considering the vulnerability of the 1,643 km unfenced India-Myanmar borders with Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Manipur (398 km), Nagaland (215 km) and Mizoram (510 km), the Free Movement Regime (FMR), which allows citizen residing close to both sides of the border to move 16 km into each other's territory without passport or visa, is likely to be discontinued soon.

The FMR allows people to cross over after showing a border pass with one year validity.

Assam Rifles and Border Road Organisation (BRO) officials said that work of erection of border fencing along the Manipur border with Myanmar is now going on and there are plans to erect fencing on the entire India-Myanmar border within the next four-five years.

“The erection of fencing is not only to stop the misuse of FMR, but also to prevent influx of illegal immigrants, drugs peddling and gold smuggling. The insurgent outfits also take the advantage of the FMR freely and undertake their movement on either side of the border to carry out attacks on the Indian side and flee towards Myanmar,” a top Assam Rifles official told IANS.

Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh had earlier requested the Union Home Ministry to cancel the FMR.

Former Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga, who’s party Mizo National Front (MNF) lost the November 7 Assembly elections, urged the United Nations to take pro-active steps to curb the illegal drugs trafficking and smuggling of various contraband goods from Myanmar.

MNF supremo Zoramthanga, militant leader turned politician, while talking to IANS had said that without any control and prohibition of the Myanmar authority rampant drugs trading and poppy cultivation has been going on in the neighbouring country and this is being smuggled to Mizoram, Manipur and other northeastern states.

“We are facing the big challenge of drug trafficking. Mizoram police, para-military forces together with Churches, NGOs and local people have joined in the war against drugs. We need the help of the Indian Government and the United Nations to effectively tackle the illicit drug trades,” Zoramthanga pointed out.

Apart from the Golden triangle (which includes Myanmar, Laos and Thailand), militant outfits in Myanmar are involved in poppy cultivation, he pointed out.

The former head of the Indian Army's Eastern Command, Lt Gen Rana Pratap Kalita, who retired on December 31 after four decades of service, had said, “Any instability in India’s neighbourhood is not in our interest, it impacts us as we share a common border. The problem of India-Myanmar gets accentuated by difficult geography and terrain.”

“There has been recovery of a lot of contraband drugs and narcotics from people who are coming (from Myanmar into NE states), so security forces are keeping a very close eye on drug peddlers,” the veteran Army officer said in Guwahati.

After the Myanmar military toppled the Aung San Suu Kyi Government and seized power in a coup in February 2021, the cross-border smuggling of drugs, arms, gold and various other contrabands increased to a large extent with Mizoram becoming the main transit route of the illegal trade.

According to various law enforcement agencies, various drugs, worth over Rs 2,000 cr have been seized after these were smuggled from Myanmar into the northeastern states and over 300 people including Myanmarese have been arrested in 2022 and 2023.

After Mizoram and Manipur, Assam, Tripura and other northeastern states are also facing a serious threat of drugs, mostly smuggled from Myanmar and traded to Bangladesh, different states of India and other countries.

Nagaland police recently arrested 12 drug peddlers from the Zubza police station area in Kohima district, which led to the busting of an inter-state racket that operated in Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Punjab, besides Nagaland.

"Upon interrogation, it was revealed that the accused are suspected to have trafficked around 60 kg of heroin worth about Rs 400 crore within one year,” Nagaland’s Director-General of Police (DGP) Rupin Sharma said.

Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh and senior law enforcement agency officials have accused illegal immigrants from Myanmar and drug peddlers, including Myanmar nationals, of being involved in mass poppy farming and forest destruction in the northeastern state.

Before the over eight-month-long ongoing ethnic violence, the Manipur Government, during March-April last year, started destruction of illegal poppy cultivation and launched an eviction drive against the encroachers who illegally occupied the reserve and protected forest lands in the mountainous areas of the state.

Hundreds of encroachers have been evicted from forest land in Imphal East, Kangpokpi, Thoubal and Noney districts during the past seven years (2017-2023). People belonging to Meitei, Kuki, Pangal (Manipuri Muslim) and Kabui tribes have been evicted from the forest land. With seeds supplied from Myanmar, the Poppy cultivation in Manipur was done over 15,496.8 acres. The Kuki-Chin community inhabited area in 2022-23 accounted for 804 acres and the Naga people inhabited area was 350 acres. The enormity of the drug menace has assumed such proportions that out of the state’s population of 28 lakh, the number of drug-affected youths is around 1.4 lakh.

Manipur, which shares 398 km unfenced border with Myanmar, has also become a gateway for illegal drugs. In Mizoram, the number of drug-related deaths was recorded at 72, including 11 women last year, 43 in 2022 and 47 in 2021.

Drug abuse in Mizoram reached alarming levels with 139 deaths in 2000 while the highest number of drug-related fatalities was 143 in 2004. Varied drugs, including heroin and highly addictive methamphetamine tablets, foreign cigarettes, gold, arms and ammunition, exotic animals, and areca nuts are often smuggled from Myanmar into the northeastern states.

After several decades of militancy, the drug menace has become the prime threat in the northeastern states because of the region’s close proximity to Myanmar.

According to the Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2023 report, which was released last month, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated that Myanmar is the world’s biggest opium producer. According to the survey, from 2022 to 2023, Myanmar saw an 18 per cent increase to 1,16,000 acres in the land used to grow the illicit crop and a 16 per cent rise in production. The growth can be attributed to multiple factors such as improved plot density, the use of irrigation and fertilisers.

Earlier Afghanistan was the biggest producer but since the ascent of the Taliban to power in 2021, the cultivation of opium poppies has seen a decrease of 95 per cent. The report notes that opium farming in Southeast Asia is closely linked to poverty, unemployment, lack of government services, challenging macroeconomic environment, instability and insecurity.