Armed Indian separatist group the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) claim that their bases in Burma have come under attack from the Burmese military since Tuesday. They have also alleged that the Burmese have been supplied with Indian heavy weaponry since June.
The ULFA are fighting for an independent Assam in India’s far northeast that borders Burma and, crucially, China. In a statement they claimed that the “Indian Army was supplying heavy weapons to Myanmar [Burma] through the Moreh border point in Manipur since June”.
The issue of India supplying the Burmese has remained contentious. In 2007 Indian officials in Delhi denied to US diplomats that India had supplied “lethal” weaponry, despite reports to the contrary from both activists and US intelligence sources.
Local journalist, Nava Thakuria, corroborated however that Indian arms and financing was being used in the operations against ULFA by the Burmese.
Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna visited Naypyidaw in June, which was followed by Burmese assurances that they would wipe out the Indian groups on their soil. No open statement was made on weapons’ transfers however.
The ULFA statement further claimed that the Burmese “attack will, however, not be able to diminish our strong aspirations for freedom. We want to assure the indigenous people of Assam that we are not going to allow the Government of India to destroy our freedom struggle through the gun of the neighbouring country.”
The statement was attributed to Lieutenant Arunodoy Dahotia, according to Rediff India.
ULFA head, Paresh Barua, is said to be hiding out in Burma’s Kachin state, an issue which former Indian Ambassador to the country, G Parthasarathy, said that Delhi had reason to fault the Burmese for.
Thakuria told DVB that the Burmese pressure on their Burmese bases would be a damaging blow since the group’s operations were expelled from Bangladesh, “unless they can get help from China,” he told DVB.
ULFA was declared an illegal organisation by the Indian state in 1990. It has however maintained ties with the Kachin Indpendence Organisation (KIO). ULFA claim to have never ceded autonomy to India following Indian independence.
India for its part is desperate to normalise the region which is home to a number of separatist ethnic groups. As a result India has pressured both Burma and Bangladesh to clear out exiled rebels. This forced Barua to flee Bangladesh in 2009.
The region is of strategic value as it is bordered by Burma, Bangladesh and crucially China, who claim India’s Arunanchal Pradesh, as it was once part of Tibet, which they fully annexed in 1950.