May 22, 2008 12:24:23 am
China has replaced Cambodia and Thailand as the main supplier of weapons to insurgent groups in India’s Northeast and Myanmar, the Jane’s Intelligence Review (JIR) has said.
In an analysis of the Asian weapons black market, the defence think-tank says that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) rebel group in Myanmar acts as the “middleman” between Chinese arms manufacturers and insurgent groups in the Northeast, with most weapons routed through China’s Yunnan province.
Pointing out that the arms market in India is extremely lucrative, JIR says that a Chinese automatic rifle that is available for $500 in eastern Myanmar can command a price of $2,500 by the time it reaches the Northeast.
Referring to an arms seizure by Myanmar authorities in 2001 that first brought out the trend, JIR says that “a consignment of several hundred Chinese assault rifles” were recovered while being transported to the Indian border at Tamu and were meant for “Manipuri UNLF and possibly other factions”.
Confirming the trend, officials in the Indian security establishment say that Chinese origin weapons are increasingly being seized from Northeast insurgent groups and have even reached the illegal arms market in Uttar Pradesh.
“It is definite that most arms are coming through the Myanmar and Bangladesh route. While there are no markings on the weapons to link them with the country of origin, it is clear from the design that they are of Chinese origin,” a senior security official said.
JIR reveals that the UWSA — a 20,000-strong outfit operating in eastern Myanmar, which has a shaky ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta – receives the maximum volume of arms and has emerged as the principal supplier to Indian insurgent groups.
“The volume of munitions reaching the UWSA from across the Yunnan border has permitted that group to develop a role as a middleman in the traffic to insurgent groups in India,” the Janes assessment says.
Interestingly, while China has increased legitimate weapon supplies to Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Janes says that its illicit arms trade with rebel groups operating in these countries — the LTTE and the Kachin Independence Army (Myanmar) — is also on the upswing.
“The case of the UWSA in Myanmar appears to afford strong evidence, albeit circumstantial, of the overlap between small arms sales to a non-State actor and China’s ‘second track’ foreign policy goals in a country of crucial strategic importance,” JIR says.
The disturbing trend once again underlines New Delhi’s concern over growing Chinese influence in the region. Sources say that in the weapons black market in the Northeast, a typical T 56 assault rifle (a Chinese rip-off of the K-47) is available for Rs 2.5-3 lakh. A used one costs just Rs 1-1.5 lakh. The magazines come cheap at Rs 100 a piece. Chinese pistols — the M 20 pistol or the .30 Marcos pistol — are available for Rs 1-1.5 lakh each.
While the trend had been growing over the past few years, the seizure of a massive arms consignment in 2004 in Chittagong brought things out in the open for the first time. It was one of the biggest-ever arms seizures in Bangladesh and it raised alarm bells throughout the region, especially India, after it came to light that the Chinese-origin weapons were meant for Northeast insurgent groups.
Over 1,700 assault rifles, 400 Uzi submachine guns, 150 rocket propelled grenade launchers and a large quantity of ammunition originating from Hong Kong had been seized by Bangladesh authorities.
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