Concerns of escalation as Myanmar air raids near the Indian border

Camp Victoria, near Myanmar’s northwestern border with India, is the headquarters of the Chin National Front, an ethnic armed group fighting against the military regime [Photo: CNF]

A thunderous explosion startled Van Bawi Mang, a member of an armed opposition group fighting the Myanmar military, back to war on January 10.

As jet fighters screamed overhead, bombs shattered glass, and he ran into a ditch.

After the Myanmar military overthrew the government in February 2021, the Chin National Front (CNF) resumed its campaign for autonomy at Camp Victoria.

After the coup, the CNF joined the nationwide pro-democracy movement and fought with newer resistance groups.

After the jets left on January 10, Van Bawi Mang and his companions spent a restless night in ditches and bunkers across the camp, expecting more attacks.

The military struck the following afternoon again after a quiet night. Five CNF members were murdered in the two attacks, which damaged family dwellings and a medical centre.

After months of warfare in Chin State, the Myanmar military has not commented on the attacks. The military has increased airstrikes recently, but this is the first time it has targeted a rebel group's headquarters.

The attacks show the generals' brazen attempts to crush opposition and their willingness to cross the country's western borders to do it.

Camp Victoria borders Myanmar and Mizoram's Tiau River. The CNF, local Mizo organizations, and Fortify Rights said the assaults breached Indian airspace and soil.

Myanmar Witness, an independent charity investigating human rights violations using open-source data, said the assaults constituted an "almost certain breach of Indian airspace" and a "likely attack on Indian sovereign territory".

The National Unity Government, a pro-democracy administration in Myanmar, has made this allegation. The administration urged neighbouring nations to block military airspace "in the interests of regional peace and security and the protection of civilians" on January 17.

India's foreign ministry spokeswoman refuted claims that Myanmar's military had encroached into its airspace but confirmed that a bomb had landed in the Tiau riverbed near Farkawn village in Mizoram's Champhai district.

The spokeswoman stated that the ministry had "taken up the matter with the Myanmar side" on such instances near the border.

In Mizoram, local organizations and a music concert have condemned the attacks. Mizos and Chins are ethnically related, and since the coup, the state has taken in nearly 40,000 refugees without central government financing.

The bombings may have bolstered Chin resistance. "We sleep anywhere. Rebuild our camp. "That's not important," remarked Van Bawi Mang.

"The military thinks their bombs can defeat us, but they are wrong. Spirit and land ownership are key. That's our main weapon."

More airstrikes

The military's efforts to crush dissent have failed from the outset. The months after the coup, soldiers killed hundreds of unarmed protestors, strengthening the armed opposition. The military has raided, burned, and bombed villages, but the resistance has grown.

A forthcoming Myanmar Witness study based on open-source data suggests increased air strikes in late 2022.

Shona Loong, a political geography lecturer at the University of Zurich, told Al Jazeera that the military's bombing of Camp Victoria shows an approach it has used for decades to quell resistance in the country's border areas, where about two dozen ethnic armed organizations, including the CNF, are based.

She claimed the airstrikes "still testify to the military's view of Chin resistance forces as 'terrorists' that must be crushed, even if doing so incurs a significant civilian toll". It will "energize the resistance even further".

The Camp Victoria bombing hit multiple civilian sites, including a hospital with a red cross, a symbol of protection under international humanitarian law.

Since opening in August 2021, the hospital has treated more than 5,000 citizens from both sides of the India-Myanmar border, according to a doctor who helped establish it.

"We chose Camp Victoria because, without aerial attacks, it is the safest place across Chin State," he stated. "We didn't expect such an inhumane act as a bomb blast on a civil hospital."

The CNF condemned the bombs "in the strongest terms the brutal and cowardly acts".

The bombs "made it impossible for a reversal of course for the ongoing revolution," it claimed on January 13.


Since the coup, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, an international crisis-mapping charity, estimates that over 30,000 Myanmarese have died in political violence.

Salai Za Uk Ling, deputy director of the Chin Human Rights Organisation, told Al Jazeera that the attacks were "naive given how determined and committed the Chin resistance has been from the beginning" and expects a "marked escalation" of the struggle in Chin State.

The attacks drove 250 more people across the border and affected Mizoram. Community organizations have helped refugees since the coup.

However, the Camp Victoria explosions have alarmed the Mizo people.

C Lalramliana, president of the Farkawn Village Council, told Al Jazeera that locals avoided the Tiau River unless necessary a week after the bombing.

Two men collecting riverside sand on January 10 stated the Myanmar attacks threatened their lives.

TC Lalhmangaihsanga heard three bomb blasts while loading sand onto his vehicle. He stated the third hit roughly 50 metres (164 ft) from his truck, penetrating the metal driver's cabin wall from the rear, breaking the windscreen, and piercing the driver's headrest.

Vanlalmuana Hramlo, a tractor driver, heard the blasts while returning to his village with sand. "As we drove uphill, [the Myanmar military] might think we were fleeing and shoot at us," he stated.

Mizo community organizations denounced the attacks.

"It is a painful assault on our great motherland, India, by jet fighters frightening and terrifying Indian farmers, sand loaders and the common people," stated a regional affiliate of the Young Mizo Association (YMA), an influential group in the state.

A group of six Mizo organizations, including the YMA, called the bombings "an act of disrespect and direct challenge of the sovereignty of India and violation of human rights of Indian citizens in general and Mizo people in particular".

Mizoram and the central Indian government's coup responses differ.

The Mizoram State government has always supported Myanmar and welcomed refugees. The central government first sought to "prevent a possible influx" of refugees into the northeastern regions and maintained diplomatic connections with Myanmar's top military generals.

Angshuman Choudhury, an associate scholar at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi who studies Myanmar and northeast India, told Al Jazeera that the Camp Victoria bombs were unlikely to influence India's Myanmar policy.

"Over the past year, the Indian government has consolidated its relationship with the Myanmar military regime to advance its own economic and strategic interests," he said. One border bombing won't change that.

Fight back.

The CNF forewarned of the Camp Victoria attacks. A military reconnaissance plane flew over the camp on November 2, and classified military documents leaked the same week revealed its preparations to assault 14 camp facilities.

The Chin resistance told Al Jazeera that the Indian government's initial silence after the attacks had bred suspicion and abandonment.

On January 13, the CNF extended an olive branch.

Our neighbours should realize that doing business with the military junta is not viable or strategic. "People and revolution in the future," it said.

Al Jazeera said that Chin opposition leaders hoped to improve relations with India.

"As a good neighbour and democratic country, India is also responsible for our survival and our fight for freedom," said CNF advisor Salai Ceu Bik Thawng. "Support would be appreciated."

The CNF's third vice chairman, Sui Khar, thought India would see that dealing with Myanmar's resistance would benefit it.

"India should also realize that they cannot achieve their policies, their goals only having a good relationship with Naypyidaw," he remarked, alluding to the vast metropolis the generals built for themselves during a previous military administration.

"They must interact with stakeholders."

Publish : 2023-01-25 12:25:00

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