The demolition of “illegal constructions” by the Myanmar Army on the no man’s land along the India-Myanmar border led to some tension in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district last week.
According to the district collector K. Raghumani, the Myanmarese authorities had not informed them about the demolition drive and the matter would be brought to the notice of the central government. Some media reports, quoting the district police, stated that the incident occurred on December 31 after the Myanmar Army personnel removed “illegal construction of Indians like pig pens” on the no man’s land a day before. Tengnoupal superintendent of police S. Ibomcha said Raghumani inspected the area following the complaint and thereafter asked the villagers to demolish constructions “like pig pens” on their own, failing which the district administration would have to do it.
With no clear-cut demarcation of the boundary between India and Myanmar, disputes over alleged encroachment of land surfaced between the villagers on both sides.
The no man’s land comprises a large patch which is left unoccupied as it is disputed. No construction is allowed on it by either side. Last year, in a similar incident reported from the district, the Myanmar Army razed to the ground a saw mill in Hollenphai village and took away its machinery, claiming it to be on their land. The army, in 2013, had set up a temporary camp in that area and claimed some of the houses constructed in that village were on Myanmar land.
The construction of the fencing along the international border, as agreed by the two countries in 2003 after a joint survey, had to be slowed down, first in 2004 and then in 2007. It had to be completely halted in 2013 due to local opposition. Residents of as many as 18 villages in Manipur feel that they would be affected if the fencing work continues. Being an open border that helps in free movement, many locals feel that they would be separated from their kith and kin living on either side.
However, in what seemed like a step keeping in mind such sentiments besides enhancing economic interaction between the two countries, the Union cabinet on January 3 approved an agreement between India and Myanmar on land border crossing. A statement issued by the India government said the agreement will safeguard the traditional rights of the largely tribal communities residing along the border which are accustomed to free movement across the land border.
The open border is also said to be a route commonly used by militants for their movement and also to smuggle arms. The new agreement would enable authorities on both sides to have better border control as it would help facilitate the movement of people from one side to the other on the basis of valid passports and visas.
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