Govt may end ‘free movement’ along India-Myanmar border | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Govt may end ‘free movement’ along India-Myanmar border

ByNeeraj Chauhan
Jan 03, 2024 12:51 AM IST

FMR allows people residing close to the India-Myanmar border on either side to venture 16km into the other’s territory without documents.

New Delhi: The free movement regime or FMR that allows people residing close to the India-Myanmar border on either side to venture 16km into the other’s territory without documents may be cancelled soon and the entire border fenced, people familiar with the plan said on Tuesday, detailing an effort aimed at putting a lid on insurgencies, smuggling and the drug trade.

The 1,643 km long Indo-Myanmar border (IMB), which passes through Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, currently has FMR and is guarded by Assam Rifles. (AP)
The 1,643 km long Indo-Myanmar border (IMB), which passes through Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, currently has FMR and is guarded by Assam Rifles. (AP)

Anyone wanting to enter India will have to get valid travel documents, the people added, asking not to be named.

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The idea is to stop the misuse of FMR, which is being used by insurgent groups to carry out attacks on the Indian side and then fleeing into Myanmar, and to put a halt to the influx of illegal immigrants, and paralyse drugs and gold smuggling networks, they said.

The 1,643 km long Indo-Myanmar border (IMB), which passes through Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, currently has FMR and is guarded by Assam Rifles. It was implemented in 2018 as part of India’s Act East policy, an effort to boost the region’s economy by boosting India’s trade with ASEAN and other Southeast Asian nations.

Under FMR, every member of the hill tribes, who is either a citizen of India or a citizen of Myanmar and who is resident of any area within 16km on either side of IMB can cross the border on production of a border pass with one year validity and can stay up to two weeks per visit.

It is a regime that has allowed tribes on both sides to travel without any visa restrictions, to maintain their age-old ties and engage in barter trade. People coming from Myanmar particularly look for employment opportunities in India, besides better education facilities.

With many of the hill tribes sharing ethnicities, it is also a regime that has kept their cultural connections alive.

“We are going to end the FMR at Indo-Myanmar border soon. We will hold talks with Myanmar authorities once we finalise the modalities. Subsequently, the entire Indo-Myanmar Border (IMB) will be completely fenced in the next four and a half years. Anyone coming through will have to travel through a passport and get a visa,” said one of the people cited in the first instance, a senior government official.

This person added that tendering for an advanced smart fencing system for the 300-km-long IMB is already in the works.

Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh had urged the Centre in September 2023 to end FMR. The state government has argued that insurgents use the free movement regime to further their activities. Manipur has a 390km porous border with Myanmar.

Mizoram, too, has recorded an influx of anti-Junta rebels in thousands since the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, 2021. According to Indian government estimates, over 60,000 refugees have been living in different parts of Mizoram since the coup.

Mizoram chief minister Lalduhoma, however, said he is not aware of any such plan. “We are not aware of any such development nor have we been informed about it. I am going to New Delhi later this week and will hold talks with both the Prime Minister and union home minister. If there’s any such decision taken, it will be discussed there,” he told HT over phone from Aizawl.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is also investigating a case related to the seizure of two pick-up trucks, laden with explosives and firearms, from Kulikawn police station area in Aizawl, Mizoram by the Assam Rifles Naka team on May 1, 2022.

Commenting on the plan, Ginza Vualzong, spokesperson of the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), a Kuki organisation based in Churachandpur, said: “I don’t see cancellation of the FMR as a solution because the ethnic violence is incited internally by the radical Meitei in their pursuit to remove all Kuki-Zo from Manipur. I see that this is just an attempt by the Meitei government to prove their point on illegal immigrants or illegal infiltration.”

But a security official had a different perspective. “The problem of insurgency and drugs smuggling will largely be resolved by ending the FMR as cadres of insurgent groups won’t be able to smuggle arms, carry out attacks on this side and run back to their camps on Myanmar side as seen in the past,” a counter-insurgency official, who didn’t want to be named, said.

India-Pakistan border to be drone-free in six months

The Centre is also in the process of moving to an indigenously developed anti-drone system on the entire western border, from Gujarat to Jammu and Kashmir, in next six months, senior government officials said Tuesday.

At least three designs for the anti-drone technology developed by different companies are currently being run on a pilot basis at certain locations at the Indo-Pak border, and soon, one or a combination of the three will be adopted, they added, asking not to be named.

“The menace of smuggling arms and narcotics from across the border through the use of drones will be over in the next six months. The anti-drone technology will be in place by then,” said one of the people.

According to the Border Security Force (BSF), around 107 drones were shot down in Punjab alone by the border guarding force in 2023. Overall, there were over 450 drone sightings along the entire Indo-Pak border last year.

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