‘We ran towards India’: Fear grips Myanmar border areas | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

‘We ran towards India’: Fear grips Myanmar border areas

By, India-myanmar Border (mizoram)
Nov 24, 2023 07:00 AM IST

The villages of Tiao D and Tiao Khawmami in Myanmar have been heavily damaged by bombings, causing thousands of residents to flee to India.

The roofs are damaged, the streets are littered with splinters, and tin sheets that served as walls have holes pierced by bombs. Many of the houses are locked but some are just bolted, and most of the windowpanes are shattered. The scenes are almost similar in Tiao D and Tiao Khawmami, two villages about 4km from Mizoram across the international border in Myanmar.

The roofs are damaged, the streets are littered with splinters, and tin sheets that served as walls have holes pierced by bombs. Many of the houses are locked but some are just bolted, and most of the windowpanes are shattered. (File photo) PREMIUM
The roofs are damaged, the streets are littered with splinters, and tin sheets that served as walls have holes pierced by bombs. Many of the houses are locked but some are just bolted, and most of the windowpanes are shattered. (File photo)

On Thursday, when HT visited these villages, a few families were seen repairing their homes, but most people were staying put at relief camps in Zohkawathar in Mizoram, fearing that there would be another attack. The Tiao river separates Zohkawathar, a town in Mizoram’s Changphai district, from Myanmar, and a small bridge over the porous border offers easy access to people on both sides.

There is no restriction on residents from the two countries to travel up to 16km into each other’s territories without a visa or a permit.

Earlier this month, rebel groups in Myanmar, including the Chin National Army (CNA), the People’s Democratic Force (PDF), and the Chinland Defence Force, took over military posts in the border areas in a bid to take back territory from the Junta, which has been in control of the country since the military coup in 2021. In response, the Myanmar Army bombed areas in the vicinity, resulting in thousands of people living in villages nearby feeling to India.

READ | Refugees now reach south Mizoram amid fresh airstrikes by Myanmar army

Over 5,000 Myanmar nationals crossed over to Zohkawathar from Tiao D and Tiao Khawmami on November 12-13. Fourteen of their residents are admitted to two Aizwal hospitals with critical wounds; many others with non-serious wounds are at the Champhai district hospital.

“I have returned to rebuild the roof but we will not spend the night here. It’s not safe. I have to redo the walls of my house because it has bullet marks,” Laldin Liana, 35, a resident of Tiau D village, said on Thursday while construction workers finished placing a new tin sheet to serve as his roof. The old roof, Liana said, had over 50 splinter holes in it.

“The military junta fired around 50-70 bombs between November 12 and 13. On November 13, at around 2pm, I was standing outside the coop feeding the birds. Two bombs landed suddenly -- one inside the house and the other hit the coop. We heard two explosions and saw flames. All the 15 birds inside the coop died. We just ran, and ran, towards India,” he added.

READ | India issues advisory for its nationals in Myanmar, asks them to register at embassy in Yangon

Less than 200m away, at the edge of Tiau Khawmawi village, is the house of Lalkun Keima, a 37-year-old porter who helps load trucks on the India-Myanmar border. Keima, too, has returned to rebuild the kitchen of his house after it was damaged in the bombing. Just a few minutes after Liana’s house was struck by a bomb, Keima and his wife, Lalpeik Mawii, 40, were also forced to evacuate.

“We had been hearing planes hovering above us the previous night. When the bombs started landing near our village, everyone started fleeing. My wife and I were in another room, when the bomb ripped off our roof and burned the kitchen. As soon as we stepped out, another bomb completely gutted our neighbour’s house. Fortunately, he’d already left his house by then,” Keima said.

Some abandoned Myanmar Army posts are visible about 200m up the hill from Tiao D and Tiao Khawmami. Locals say the members of the rebel forces have advised them to keep away from those area. “There were bombs dropped by the army on their own military posts once the rebel forces took control. We saw planes dropping the bombs, but they did not explode for some reason. PDF has told us not to go near the post because these bombs could explode if we step on them,” Keima said.

While the residents of these two villages, which together have around 1,000 houses, are unsure whether to return to there homes or stay on in camps in India, militants from CNA and PDF are patrolling the villages. The rebel cadres are also manning the porous border on the Myanmar side. The cadres refused to interact with this reporter, but claimed that the Myanmar Army is no longer is no longer in control of this western part of the country.

READ | ‘Deeply concerned’: India calls for peace as Myanmar fighting reaches near border

“The PDF cadres have placed a loudspeaker on the hill. They said they will sound an alert if the Myanmar Army comes to drop bombs again,” said Hrang Thannuna, 45, who returned to his home on Wednesday and found the walls burnt down and a portion of the roof damaged.

Refugees have been streaming into Mizoram since fighting between the ruling junta and the rebel forces intensified in Myanmar on October 27 -- a reflection of the shared community solidarities of many tribal groups such as Kuki-Zo people, whose populations are scattered across the porous border. In all, government estimates suggest over 30,000 refugees from Myanmar are living in parts of northern Mizoram — at least 20,000 in the biggest Aizawl district, and about 10,000 near the northern town of Champhai — since the 2021 military coup in Myanmar. About 5,000 more have arrived after November 11 and 12.

“Our state government has not pushed for biometric data capturing or building a fence because it is against humanity... The people across border share the same ethnic ties with the people here. Also this is a temporary measure. Though many have come to India because of the situation in their country, they will eventually return,” state’s joint secretary (home) Lalthiamsang Sailo said.

According to a resident Siamtea, who works as a driver in Zohkawathar, no one is complaining about the influx of refugees. “The government number is 30,000 but the actual number could be more. But no one, including me is complaining because we have not faced any problems. Mizos and our Chin brothers and sisters have been living together peacefully all these years. There are hundreds of Myanmars nationals who live across the border but works across the border,” Siamtea added.

On Thursday evening, after working on repairs, Thannuna was walking across the bridge to India to spend the night at a relative’s house in Zohkawathar. “After some years, we won’t have to seek shelter in India,” he said. “Our rebel forces are taking control of key areas from the army. Many of us will go to the cities in Myanmar once democracy is restored. Let them destroy our houses. We will rebuild the again and again, until we get democracy back.”

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    Prawesh Lama covers crime, policing, and issues of security in Delhi. Raised in Darjeeling, educated in Mumbai, he also looks at special features on social welfare in the National Capital.

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