Arakan terrorists

The separatist Arakan Army (AA) fighting Myanmar troops in an intensified conflict in the coastal province of Rakhine and the neighbouring state of Chin has managed to land and bring in a huge consignment of weapons and ammunition through Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts.

The consignment containing 500 assault rifles, 30 Universal Machine Guns, 70000 rounds of ammunition and a huge stock of grenades was brought in by sea and offloaded at the Monakhali beach not far from the coastal junction of Myanmar and Bangladesh in the third week of February.

Definite evidence has surfaced that the consignment had a trouble-free landing at the Monakhali beach near Whaikyang (Wyakuang in Burmese) on February 21 night. Nearly 150 Rakhine porters drawn from various villages of Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh and accompanied by 50 fighters of Arakan Army carried this consignment on foot and mules through Gundum and Rejupara, Uhalapalonh and Paglirara crisscrossing the very hilly border region. Skirting the Matamuhuri-Sangua wildlife sanctuary, the column skirted Singpa and reached the Arakan Army camp at Sandak(Mro) near Thanchi on March 2.

The nearest Bangladesh army camps hardly send out patrols in these hilly terrain and the cantonment of Alikadam is far away.

Bangladesh army and navy have not conducted any operation against the Arakan Army in recent years and it was not surprising that the AA consignment could be landed without an interception.

“It seems the Bangladesh forces in the area look the other way and do not disturb the AA both because it is a strong force and also because it is creating a huge problem for the Myanmarese forces that generals and admirals in Dhaka and Chittagong may not be very unhappy about,” ” one top source in Cox’s Bazar said. He was unwilling to be named for fear of harassment by security forces who resent sensitive disclosures.

Myanmar-Bangladesh relations have worsened in recent years over the Burmese pushout of nearly one million Muslim Rohingyas that Bangladesh has been forced to shelter.

So unlike the Indian army attacking AA bases in southern Mizoram and even conducting ‘Operation Sunrise’ last year in a bid to get their Kaladan Multimodal project operationalised, Bangladesh can afford to look the other way because it has no stake in Rakhine.

Another top source in Chittagong says that Bangladesh intelligence has received unconfirmed reports that the Burmese military is trying to develop close links with the former rebels of Shanti Bahini in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to use them in the area against the Arakanese and Rohingya rebels.

“Bangladesh intelligence closely follows any possible effort to revive the Shanti Bahini and they realise that in view of strong Delhi-Dhaka relations, only the Burmese could use these Buddhist tribal insurgents in future,” the source said.

After carrying the huge consignment to Sandak(Mro), the AA has smuggled the arms into Rakhine using the Parva corridor in South Mizoram here the local Khumi villagers are friendly to the insurgents.

The Assam Rifles which guards this frontier has thin deployment in the Parva area because Mizoram is a peaceful state and there is no local insurgency. So after mobilising additional troops for ‘Operation Sunrise’ in which some AA bases in South Mizoram were demolished, the Assam Rifles had to pull back most of them for deployment in other insurgency affected states of Northeast India.

Top sources in Assam Rifles confirmed that they have ‘credible reports’ of movement of an arms consignment of Arakan Army through the Parva corridor in the Mizoram-CHT-Chin trijunction in March. “But our estimates are the consignment consisted of 200 rifles and about 40000 rounds of ammunition,” a top AR official said.

It is possible that AR’s intelligence cell would have picked the smuggling of the consignment in the later stages of Arakan Army effort and missed out on the actual scale.

A top expert on Asia’s arms trafficking based in Bangkok told this writer that the Chinese state-owned ordnance company NORNICO supplies non-state actors like Arakan Army using some fronts. They have done these for northeast Indian rebels in the past. The expert did not wish to be identified because of possible Chinese counter-measures resenting the disclosure.

He said TCL, a Norinco front, loaded the consignment on a ship at Heibei, a small fishing port in South China in the early part of February, even when the Corona pandemic was raging in China. A TCL manager Lin who also goes by the name of Yuthna was instrument in loading the cargo on the ship. It is not clear whether the AA has paid TCL or whether the Chinese intelligence would have organised covert payment.

The AA is said to have strong links with China since its formation in Kachin in 2009. Its spokesman Khaine Tukkha recently said “China recognises us while India does not” which explains why AA does not disturb the Chinese deep seaport at Kyaukphyu but kidnaps and badgers Indian construction workers involved in the Kaladan project.

In April-May 1995, the Indian army had intercepted a group of Naga, Manipuri and Assamese rebels which was carrying into Northeast a huge consignment of weapons that had been landed at Wyakaung. 38 rebels were killed and 110 arrested by the 57th Division of the Indian army in “Operation Golden Bird” which this writer, then the BBC’s East-Northeast India bureau chief, had extensively reported on.

The AA rebels now seem to be using the same route inside Bangladesh (Wyakaung beach to Thanchi to Parva in Mizoram) that the north-eastern rebels have used before.