Maoist rebels in northeastern India were trained at camps across the border in Burma, according to police in New Delhi who claim the details were discovered on a laptop belonging to an arrested member of the group.
Two men from the group, commonly known as the Naxalites, were detained by police on Saturday last week on suspicion of smuggling arms. According to the Times of India, the men, identified only as Dilip and Arun, were carrying a laptop that contained files on joint training operations with the outlawed People’s Liberation Army (PLA), an ethnic separatist group from Manipur.
Naxalite rebels have been described by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the country’s “greatest security threat”. They are active in a belt that runs from the Nepalese border south through nine Indian states.
“Crucial details related to Naxal operations and some maps of Myanmar [Burma] showing the place where a joint training camp is to be held in a few weeks were recovered from their laptop,” a policeman told the Times of India.
The group is composed largely of disaffected tribal villagers who inhabit states such as Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand. In response New Delhi created the Salwa Judum militia, which is blamed for brutal reprisals and forced relocation of communities to stem the support network of the rebels.
The PLA was recently accused of receiving Chinese help, with Beijing ostensibly supporting its fight for an independent state in a bid to assume control over the northeast Indian states it claims as its own. The PLA is also linked with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).
The timing of the news about training camps in Burma, and China’s role in the insurgency, may not be a coincidence: President Thein Sein is set to make his first visit to the world’s largest democracy since being elected to office, and India has been stringently pressuring the Burmese to do more to combat groups who shelter along the remote shared border between the two countries.
The supposed common ambition of both governments to eliminate these groups resulted in an allegation from the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) that the Indians had been supplying artillery to the Burmese to help fight the rebel outfits. Able to hit targets from over 40 kilometers away, these weapons give the Burmese a significant advantage over their foe.
But the commitment of the Burmese to rooting out Indian separatist insurgents has been questioned by some, including journalist and author Bertil Lintner. He described an alleged recent assault on the ULFA as a “phantom operation”.
Indian requests for Burmese action, including those made by Foreign Minister S M Krishna on a visit to Naypyidaw in June, have persisted for years, but with little tangible effect.
The Naxal struggle was born in May 1967 and named after the village of Naxalbariin northern West Bengal state. The insurrection began when police opened fire on protesting landless farmers, sparking outrage.
Their struggle is synonymous with the failure of the Indian government to combat the ravishes of poverty in rural areas. States such as Bihar are renowned for feudal caste ridden politics in which tribal or Adivasi communities bear the brunt, with the World Bank noting that over 56 percent of tribal children are clinically underweight. It has also stated that “inequalities in nutritional status widened” during the 1990s, a period of rapid economic liberalisation.
Nationwide, the World Bank notes that the “prevalence of underweight among children in India is amongst the highest in the world, and nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Tribal lands in states such as Chhatisgarh are also rich in minerals. The state produces some 15 percent of India’s steel, with companies such as South Korea’s POSCO involved in mining that has displaced tribal communities.
India has recently set a target of doubling trade with Burma to $US3 billion over the next five years and is keen to compete with China for influence over Naypyidaw. Given its proximity to both Burma and China, suppressing insurgency in India’s volatile northeast is an essential component of this goal.