Kohima, February 19: Even as the Union Government and the Myanmar are trying to fence the porous border between the two countries to avert movement of militants and limit the passage points, there is a demand for introducing more trouble-free access for the people.
Sources said people wanted opening of road transport system between the two countries for speedy development of one of the world remotest places on earth, especially on Myanmar side. This would also open up the Centre’s Act East Policy. “We want the two Governments to at least allow movement of vehicles within the Free Movement Regime”, a source said.
One source said State Government also wanted the Union Government to relax the restrictions and open up for limited vehicular traffic within the Free Movement Regime of 16 km or even upto 20 km on both sides.
But currently the Centre has imposed restriction on movement of people along the borders where most of them are Naga tribes, some of them living on both sides. Lately people are allowed to use motorcycles as means of transport and travelling but after the upsurge of militancy along the border, the Centre has tightened its grip along the border putting scanning the movements of people. The two Governments had even proposed fencing the border which was strongly opposed forcing the two countries to suspend the work.
Opening vehicular traffic between the two countries in this sector would also activate the non-functional International Trade Centres at Longwa, Pangsha and Avangkhu. Due to pitiable communication these trade centres have not taken off so far in contrary to Union Government’s effort to materialize Act East Policy at the earliest.
While Nagas want two countries to relax all restrictions, the Government of India wanted to introduce “border pass” for people living within the Free Movement Regime. Reportedly Myanmar has indefinitely deferred signing an agreement with India to streamline the free movement of people. India is keen to sign the agreement but Myanmar citing “domestic compulsions” has asked more time before the agreement is sealed. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been deferred twice in the past seven months.
On January 3 last year, the Union Cabinet had approved the agreement between two countries on land border crossing to enhance economic interaction between people of the two countries. To give it shape, the Centre had asked four States– Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram that share the unfenced border with Myanmar to distribute “border pass” to all the residents living within 16 km from the border.
The agreement was to be signed in September 2017, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Myanmar for a bilateral visit. India tried to again push the agreement in January 2018, when Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was in New Delhi with nine ASEAN leaders as chief guest for the Republic Day parade.
As per the proposal, there would have been no restrictions on the movement of people across the borders. The domiciles were to be allotted border passes and those going across for agriculture, work or to meet relatives should carry the pass at all times. Both the countries intend to put a system in place after India raised the issue of movement of militants and smugglers freely across the border.
A source in Nagaland said the Assam Rifles entrusted to man the borders are putting more restrictions on people’s movements, which has to be relaxed.
“There is also a peace process going on and that final agreement may be signed and therefore there should not be any hindrance to the peace process,” said a source.
The Khiamniungan Tribal Council (KTC) general conference which will meet near Khamti in Maynmar from February 27-29 would also discuss about the border crossing issue.
India and Myanmar share a 1,643 km unfenced border along Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Nagaland (215 km), Manipur (398 km) and Mizoram (510 km) and permit a ‘free movement’ regime upto 16 km beyond the border.
Avangkhu International Border Checkpost in Phek district road is being developed as part of Bharatmala project and Longwa in Mon district has a road connecting it to “Loji” village in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division, that also provides access to larger military towns of Lahe and Yengjong on Myanmar side.
Trade with South and East Asian nations accounts for almost 45% of India’s foreign trade. Myanmar and ASEAN nations are part of India’s Act East policy. India is part of ASEAN+6, Asia Cooperation, Dialogue, Asian Clearing Union, Asian Development Bank, Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal Initiative, BIMSTEC, East Asia Summit, Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, SAARC, South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation, United Nations, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Asian Highway Network and the Trans-Asian Railway network.
The formation of Myanmar as a separate State in 1935 and decolonisation of the sub-continent in 1947 divided ethnic communities living along the Indo-Myanmar border. These communities, particularly Nagas, found the newly created boundary to be inconsistent with the traditional limits of the region they inhabited and they felt a deep sense of insecurity because they became relegated to the status of ethnic minorities on both sides of the border. To address their concerns and enable greater interaction among them, India and Myanmar established the Free Movement Regime (FMR), which allowed Nagas to travel 16 kilometres across the border on either side without any visa requirements. Both countries are intended to put common system in place to append India’s concerns.
Free movement regime is being misused by militants and trans-border criminals who smuggle weapons, contraband goods and fake Indian currency notes. Taking advantage of the free-movement regime, occasionally they enter India, commit crimes and escape to their relatively safer hideouts.
The Union Home Ministry has constituted a committee to examine methods to curb the misuse of free movement along the Myanmar border.
The stalled agreement if signed between the two countries would facilitate regulation and harmonization of already existing free movement rights for people ordinarily residing in border areas of both countries according to sources. It will also give boost to economy of North East and leverage geographical connections with Myanmar to boost trade and people to people ties. It will also safeguard traditional rights of largely tribal communities residing along border which are accustomed to free movement across land border.
There are over 250 villages with over 300,000 people living within 10 km of border who frequently cross it through 150 small and large, formal and informal, border crossings. As per proposal, there will be no restrictions on movement of people across borders. But, domiciles across the border will be allotted border passes and those going across for agriculture, work or to meet relatives need to carry pass all times.
Recently, newly posted Additional Director General of Police (ADG) Border, Rupin Sharma also visited the border posts and interacted with the village leaders. State Government has posted ADGP at Tizit, Mon to oversee the Free Movement Regime and report to the Government from time to time.
With the new initiative of opening up of land vehicular traffic along the border people are hopeful of rapid development on both sides where Naga tribes reside. It is also expected to boost the economic condition of the people, particularly people on the India side, as people on the other side depend their economic activities mainly on India side, including education. (Page News Service)