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Militants use drug money to buy arms

A flourishing narcotics trade along India's border with Myanmar was helping finance scores of rebel armies for running their violent military campaigns, officials said.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2003 15:16 IST

A flourishing narcotics trade along India's border with Myanmar was helping finance scores of rebel armies for running their violent military campaigns, officials said.

"In India's northeast, narcotics trade and insurgency are close allies with militants trading in heroin and other forms of drugs to procure arms to continue with their secessionist campaigns," an Indian intelligence official told IANS.

The northeast has earned the notoriety of being the launching pad for drug trafficking into the rest of the country with the region sharing borders with the heroin-producing "Golden Triangle" of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

India and Myanmar share a 1,643 km unfenced border.

"Poppy grown on the Indian side of the border is transported into Myanmar for refining and the refined heroin either finds its way to Thailand or is routed back into (the northeastern Indian states of) Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Meghalaya," the official said.

"The lucrative drugs trade is the primary source of finances for the many rebel groups in the northeast," he added.

There are at least 30 outlawed separatist groups active in the seven northeastern states, with demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination.

"The porous border with Myanmar is helping the trade in narcotics drugs," a senior official of the Narcotics and Border Affairs of Manipur said, requesting anonymity.

"Despite strict vigil and regular checks, it is physically impossible to stop everything due to the porous terrain."

A number of frontline Indian militant groups have bases inside Myanmar and operate in tandem with some ethnic rebel groups in the Kachin region.

Experts say Myanmar's military junta turns a blind eye to drug production and trafficking as a way of ensuring peace among ethnic minority groups, who have been restive for decades.

"The flourishing drug-manufacturing business in Myanmar was directly linked to the continuing conflict between the military government and the armed ethnic groups fighting for autonomy," the intelligence official said.

"The drug lords, who are rebel leaders, have turned to drug trafficking to finance their military campaigns."

The Indo-Myanmar border has also become a flourishing market for South Asian gunrunners, with the region's guerrilla groups purchasing huge arms consignments on a regular basis.

"The international borders along the northeastern states have been the favourite hunting ground for smugglers to sell weapons to the region's insurgent groups since decades," Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga told IANS.

The chief minister was himself a top former guerrilla leader of the Mizo National Front (MNF) before the outfit surrendered in 1986 to join over-ground politics in Mizoram.

Most of the weapons, including AK-47 and AK-56 assault rifles, mortars, 40 mm rocket launchers, pistols and revolvers, find its way first to the Arakans, a mountainous area in Myanmar, from parts of Thailand and Cambodia.

More than 50,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency in the northeast since India's independence in 1947.

First Published: Oct 13, 2003 15:16 IST