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Myanmar cracks down on anti-India rebels

Myanmar has launched a military operation to evict Indian separatists from its soil, sparking heavy fighting between guerrillas and forces.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2005 13:09 IST

Myanmar has launched a massive military operation to evict Indian separatists from its soil, sparking heavy fighting between the guerrillas and the soldiers, a rebel leader Tuesday said.

A spokesperson of the S.S. Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K), which is fighting for a tribal homeland in India's northeastern state of Nagaland, said three of their middle-ranked leaders have been captured by Myanmarese troops since the operations began Sunday.

"A gun battle is on between our fighters and Myanmarese soldiers although there are no casualties on our side so far," senior NSCN-K leader Kughalo Mulatonu told IANS over the phone from an undisclosed destination.

The rebel leader said a brigade (about 3,500 personnel) of government soldiers were involved in the operation in military-run Myanmar's northern Sagaing Division.

Mulatonu said the NSCN has at least 50 camps with some 7,000 guerrilla fighters entrenched in fortified bunkers in Myanmar.

At least four other militant groups from India's northeast, where numerous tribal and ethnic groups are fighting for greater autonomy or independence, have training camps in northern Myanmar's thick jungles - all of them sheltered there under the patronage of the NSCN.

Prominent among the Indian rebel armies operating out of Myanmar include the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK).

"All our cadres are on full alert and prepared to fight back. We are not going to withdraw or retreat," the NSCN-K leader said.

"The offensive is being carried out with the full knowledge of the Indian government. We may not be as strong as the Indian or the Myanmarese armies but we shall not remain quiet."

There has been no immediate confirmation of the military offensive from Myanmar.

Indian intelligence officials were also not willing to either deny or confirm the Myanmarese offensive.

Mulatonu said that all top leaders, including chairman S.S. Khaplang, are safe.

"We are not going to leave Myanmar and shall fight and repulse the Myanmarese forces."

The NSCN's Khaplang faction has been observing a ceasefire with New Delhi since 2001 although peace talks are yet to begin.

Myanmar in January this year killed at least 20 Indian rebels, most of them from the NSCN-K, in a similar military offensive in the same area. Myanmar had repeatedly assured New Delhi that the junta would not let Indian rebels operate from its soil.

India and Myanmar share a 1,640 km long unfenced border, allowing militants from the northeast to use the adjoining country as a springboard to carry out hit-and-run guerrilla strikes on federal soldiers.

The rebels say they are seeking to protect their ethnic identities and allege the federal government has exploited the resources in this mineral, tea, timber, and oil-rich region.

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

First Published: Dec 06, 2005 13:09 IST