Troops involved in an operation targeting an NSCN (Khaplang) military camp crossed several hundred metres into Myanmar territory, highly placed government sources told The Sunday Express. The troops, sources said, crossed the international border near border pillar 151, near the village of Chen Moho, spending several hours inside Myanmar before fire contact was made with the insurgents at around 3:30 am on Friday.
Executed by the Army’s 12 Para, the raid is the first cross-border strike to have become public since last June, when the NSCN(K) was targeted after a strike in Manipur that killed 18 soldiers. That raid had provoked international furore, with some claiming it signalled the coming of a new Indian doctrine of hot pursuit.
“The raid was part of many operations intended to maintain pressure on the NSCN(K),” a senior home ministry official said. “These operations have been ongoing, and will continue.”
On Friday, Indian Army officials had denied that troops crossed the India-Myanmar border. Though Indian forces are reported to have staged operations across the densely-forested Myanmar border for decades to target insurgents, these have rarely become public, in deference to Yangon’s sovereignty concerns.
“Myanmar is understanding of India’s concerns,” said a diplomat familiar with New Delhi-Yangon negotiations on border security, “but it also can’t publicly accept that it allows Indian operations across the border. There was a great deal of discomfort after some in the government went public last year, and it took great effort to calm things down.”
Nagaland Police officials led by Mon district’s SP, Yangba Konyak, were rushed to Chen Moho village soon after the firing began on Friday, government sources told The Sunday Express, in response to fears that civilians living on the Indian side of the border may have been killed or injured.
New Delhi-based officials familiar with Friday’s events said a 12 Para unit moved through the jungles towards an NSCN(K) camp near the village of Throilu, but its movement was detected by guards posted in the forest by the insurgents. Firing continued until about 6 am, the officials said.
Local police confirmed the account, adding that no combatant or civilian fatalities had been reported on either side of the border. In a statement to the media, the NSCN(K) claimed that it had killed “five to six Indian commandos”, a claim dismissed by the Army.
The action against the NSCN(K) last year had also registered limited success, with Indian troops claiming the lives of just seven insurgents — members of the ethnic Meitei 253 Mobile Battalion of the People’s Liberation Army of Manipur, which extorted money from traders and drug traffickers under NSCN(K) patronage.
Niki Sumi, the NSCN(K) military commander responsible for the June 4 ambush last year, had left his camp with 40 personnel before the Army raided it.
“It is extremely difficult to get success in jungle warfare,” said a military official familiar with operations across the border in Nagaland. “Insurgent camps are often located around villages and include civilian populations, so operations have to be conducted with great care”.
Konyak Naga-dominated Chen Moho is the site of a joint Indian-Myanmar road running via Throilu to Nyanching, built jointly by India and Myanmar to facilitate trade and communication between members of the tribe, who live on both sides of the border.
The NSCN(K)’s leadership and cadre are also drawn largely from the Konyak tribe, unlike its larger rival, the NSCN(IM), which is now engaged in peace talks with the Indian government.
Last summer, following the ambush, the Eastern Konyak Union, a tribal group, protested against both the Assam Rifles and Naga insurgents, saying their conflict had led to the road being snapped. The Army, it added, had “even imposed restrictions on the innocent public from buying or exchanging goods and basic necessities”.
“The affected villagers are living in miserable condition,” the Eastern Konyak Union said, appealing for protection against “intolerable circumstances in our daily life.”
Fighting in the area has intensified since last summer, intelligence sources said, as a consequence of more intense Myanmar military pressure against the NSCN(K), although the insurgent group is a party to peace talks with that country’s own tribal insurgents.
In recent months, local newspapers have carried reports of the burning down of homes and granaries, often by criminalised local insurgent groups, but also sometimes by military units.