Advances by Myanmar’s anti-junta forces mount pressure on port developed by India | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Advances by Myanmar’s anti-junta forces mount pressure on port developed by India

Feb 26, 2024 04:17 PM IST

There is no reliable estimate of Indian nationals present in Rakhine state, where India has had a consulate at Sittwe since 2014

The fall of Paletwa and several key cities in western Myanmar to anti-junta resistance forces has increased pressure on Sittwe, a port city developed with New Delhi’s assistance that is home to an Indian consulate, people familiar with the matter said.

The Sittwe Port in Rakhine state of Myanmar was jointly inaugurated by Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Admiral Tin Aung San of the neighbouring country in May 2023. (PTI Photo)
The Sittwe Port in Rakhine state of Myanmar was jointly inaugurated by Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Admiral Tin Aung San of the neighbouring country in May 2023. (PTI Photo)

Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, has been virtually cut off from roads and waterways following the capture of Paletwa and nearby cities and towns such as Pauktaw, Kyauktaw and Minbya in recent days by the Arakan Army or the Chin National Front (CNF), the people said on condition of anonymity.

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Last week, the Arakan Army said it had captured Ponnagyun township police station, 30 km from Sittwe, and told the Myanmar junta’s military command in the Rakhine state capital to “surrender or face defeat”, according to local media reports.

Sittwe port was developed under a $120-million project with an Indian line of credit and is crucial to the India-funded Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project. Following the upgrade of Sittwe port, it was inaugurated in May 2023 with the arrival of the first cargo vessel from Kolkata.

One of the people cited above said the ambitious $484-million Kaladan project, aimed at connecting Myanmar with Kolkata port by sea and Mizoram by road, now appeared to be “dead in the water”. Goods sent from Kolkata by sea were meant to be transported by roads and waterways in Myanmar to India’s northeastern states, but the project has suffered numerous delays since its launch in 2008.

There is no reliable estimate of Indian nationals present in Rakhine state, where India has had a consulate at Sittwe since 2014. Early this month, the Indian government advised its nationals not to travel to Rakhine because of the deteriorating security situation, disruption of telecommunications and a severe scarcity of essential commodities.

Indian authorities are keeping a close watch on the situation and preparing for all contingencies, the people said. However, the latest spell of fighting close to the India-Myanmar border since the launch of an offensive last October by the Three Brotherhood Alliance, which includes Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), has highlighted the junta’s increasingly fragile grip on areas close to India’s strategic northeastern states.

“Much of the area close to the India-Myanmar border, from Sagaing region to Chin and Rakhine states, are now under non-military control. This has implications for India-Myanmar relations because, so far, India’s principal interlocutor has been the Myanmar military,” said former diplomat Rajiv Bhatia, who served as India’s ambassador to Myanmar.

India has largely refrained from publicly criticising the junta’s actions since it assumed power in a coup two years ago, though it has repeatedly called for the complete cessation of violence and a constructive dialogue aimed at a transition to an inclusive and federal democracy. India’s stance has been tied to concerns about any pressure on the junta pushing it closer to China and Myanmar’s important role in maintaining peace in the northeastern states.

Angshuman Choudhury, an associate fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) who closely tracks developments in Myanmar, said both Paletwa and Sittwe are critical to Indian interests. Paletwa has an inland river terminal where goods from Sittwe would be transported to Mizoram via road, while Sittwe is the capital of a state where China is present in a big way through its deep-sea port and SEZ project in Kyaukphyu.

“The capture of Paletwa by the Arakan Army means India will need to liaise with a non-state group to continue the Kaladan project. Paletwa is also claimed by the CNF, which disputes the Arakan Army’s claim over it. This can create further complications for India,” he said.

“Sittwe gives India critical access to the offshore Shwe gas project, and it is important for New Delhi to maintain its footprint in the city,” he added.

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