Indo-Myanmar border fence will sever ethnic ties, say Kuki-Zo people; Meiteis welcome move

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Imphal/Aizawl/Itanagar, Feb 7 (PTI) The Centre's decision to fence the Indo-Myanmar border has evoked mixed reactions with the Kuki-Zo people claiming that the move will sever ethnic ties and Meitei organisations hailing the step saying it will check movement of unscrupulous elements from across the border.

The reactions came a day after the announcement by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on X that the Centre had decided to fence the Indo-Myanmar border.

"It has been decided to construct a fence along the entire 1643-kilometre-long Indo-Myanmar border. To facilitate better surveillance, a patrol track along the border will also be paved," Shah had said.

Reacting to the move, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), the apex students’ body of Mizoram, said fencing the border will divide the Zo ethnic people between the two countries and bring an end to the Free Movement Regime (FMR). The FMR allows people living on either side of the border enter up to 16 km of each other’s country without needing a visa and stay up to two weeks.

The Mizoram government and the Central Young Mizo Association (CYMA), the state's largest civil organisation, also opposed the move to fence the border.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma had earlier said Mizo people can't accept the present Indo-Myanmar border as it was imposed by the British during colonial period without consulting the Mizo people and fencing the border would mean accepting the colonial demarcation.

Last month the MZP had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him that the Centre should reconsider its decision to fence the border.

"It (FMR) enables us to participate in each other's marriages and funerals, pay visit to patients, participate in religious meetings, and engage in local-level sports tournaments. Any decision to terminate the FMR regime will take away these essential aspects and will deprive us of our rights as human beings, much like other communities around the world," the MZP had said.

Coordinating Committee (COCOMI), a joint body of valley-based Meitei civil bodies, welcomed the decision but cautioned that no area of the state should be compromised during the process.

M Dhananjoy, assistant media coordinator of COCOMI told PTI, "Had this (border fencing) been done 30-40 years back, we would not have seen the violence we are seeing today".

"Porous borders have undoubtedly led to massive smuggling of drugs threatening the lives of the youths and influx of illegal immigrants have caused enormous demographic changes threatening the indigenous population of Meiteis and state Nagas," Dhananjoy said.

Manipur’s Churachandpur-based United Zou Organisation, General Headquarters (UZO-GHQ) also opposed the government's plan to fence the border without taking into account the socio-historical implications and the existence of the Zou/Zo people.

In a statement, UZO said, "The Zou/Zo are trans-border communities who have long lived in the former Manipur-Chin (now Indo-Myanmar) boundary regions." It asserted that without their knowledge or approval, the British colonial overlords segmented their inhabited regions and gave them to Manipur and Chin Hills, in the late 19th century.

In a statement, the Kuki Chiefs' Association, Tengnoupal, expressed dismay over 'blatant' disregard of its sincere appeal against border fencing.

"In the face of vehement public opposition, this brazen action signifies a stark betrayal of democratic values, as it silences the collective voice of the people, undermining the very essence of democratic principles," the association said.

Naga bodies in Manipur also said border fencing and cancellation of FMR "is not acceptable" to them.

President Ng Lorho of the United Naga Council, the apex Naga body in the state, told PTI, "We are against border fencing. Whatever Union home minister said is not acceptable to the UNC." Tangkhul Naga Long, a prominent body of Tangkhul Naga tribe in Ukhrul and Kamjong districts of the state that shares border with Myanmar, told PTI, "Our stand is very clear. We do not approve of fencing along the India-Myanmar borders and cannot be accepted".

Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu hailed the decision of the Centre to fence the border, saying the move will check the movement of unscrupulous elements from across the border.

"A great move in the right direction to make our borders foolproof. Gratitude to Hon'ble Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi ji and Hon'ble Home Minister Shri @AmitShah ji to fence our borders along Myanmar", Khandu posted on X.

A state-of-the-art surveillance will check the movement of unscrupulous elements, Khandu said in another social media post. PTI COR UPL RG MNB