- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2006

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

NEW DELHI. — It was about 10 p.m. on Jan. 14 this year. About 30 armed men in black uniforms walked across an unfenced portion of the India-Burma border and quietly entered Moreh, a small town in Manipur, a northeastern state of India.

Their target was the local office of Burmese Solidarity Organization (BSO) where some pro-democracy Burmese activists lived and worked.

Five or six Meitei rebels from Manipur, camouflaged like the Burmese special-action soldiers they led, guided them to the BSO office about 1,100 yards inside India. After reaching the ramshackle, two-room wooden house at the edge of the town, they surrounded it and knocked on the door.

As soon as the door opened, five of the gunmen barged in, rounded up Chit Thein Tun, Maung Maung Oo and Naing Oo — three BSO activists — and dragged them from the house.

As the Burmese soldiers and their guerrilla guides were forcing the pro-democracy activists toward the border with Burma, the group ran into an Indian army patrol and a gunbattle ensued.

“Since they [the Burmese soldiers and Meitei militants] wanted to take us to Burma, we tried to resist and they beat us with wooden clubs,” said Mr. Naing Oo.

“When we found the [Indian] Assam Rifles patrol, we cried for help. As Indian soldiers fired upon our captors and a bullet hit one Meitei militant who was holding my hand, I ran away from their custody. … But they managed to take my two colleagues across to Burma,” he said.

At Imphal, the Manipur state capital, Dr. Thura — another leader of the BSO, which works among Burmese refugees in India, said the Indian government acknowledged that two Burmese activists were kidnapped in Moreh, but denied that Burmese soldiers entered Indian territory.

Mr. Naing Oo said about 25 Burmese soldiers entered India that January night seeking the democracy activists.

“In Meitei, some shouted [to] us to open the door that night. When we were dragged out, most of the soldiers spoke to us in fluent Burmese. Meitei rebels cannot speak Burmese, and Burmese soldiers can never speak Meitei. We are dead sure that they were none other than Burmese soldiers, guided on that raid by Meitei rebels from India.”

Burmese activists say that to escape frequent raids by Indian forces, many Meitei rebels from Manipur camp in Burma these days, and to return the favor they guided the Burmese troops on the Jan. 14 operation in India.

Two days after Chit Thein Tun — also known as Bo Chit — was abducted from Moreh, his Burmese wife, Hnin Hnin Chit, and their 4-year-old daughter Ei Po Po, in Burma to visit Mrs. Chit’s mother, were seized by Burmese soldiers.

4-year-old is prisoner

Because her father was a pro-democracy activist and supporter of 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, Ei Po Po became the youngest prisoner in military-ruled Burma, and perhaps the world’s youngest political detainee.

Amnesty International has condemned Burma’s treatment of the little girl, pointing out that the Rangoon government is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

While Maung Maung Oo, 40, and Mr. Chit, 42, were sent to a high-security prison in Rangoon, Mr. Chit’s wife and daughter were thrown into a jail at the Burmese border town of Tamu . Six weeks later, when Mrs. Chit was transferred to a jail in Monywa, a town in central Burma, Ei Po Po was sent 200 miles away to her grandmother in Yan Lem Phai, a village in Burma.

Although Ei Po Po misses her parents very much, according to sources in Burma, the military there is not allowing her to see her mother or father.

“Ei is often in tears and asks her grandmother to take her to see her parents,” said BSO leader Dr. Thura, the Burmese leader working with Burmese refugees in Manipur state. “The grandmother met local military officials in Burma and pleaded to take the child to see her parents imprisoned in Rangoon and Monywa, but the authorities turned down the request,” he said.

Ei Po Po was born in India and attended a nursery school in Manipur. When her parents were jailed, she was sent to her grandmother in Yan Lem Phai village, where Burmese military intelligence people have kept watch on her, holding the 4-year-old under a virtual house arrest, say sources in Burma.

“Ei used to live with her parents. Now her parents have been forcibly separated from her and she misses them terribly. She has been forced to drop out of nursery school. No one knows when her parents will get freedom and when Ei will be able to return to school,” said Dr. Thura.

BSO rejects suspicions

On Jan. 8 in the Burmese border town of Nanphalong less than a mile from the Burmese Solidarity Organization office in Moreh on the Indian side of the border, two bomb explosions killed a Burmese shopkeeper. It is thought that Burmese military targeted the BSO men and the family of one of them because they suspected Burmese pro-democracy activists were behind the explosions.

“In an open statement, we said that BSO was not involved in the Nanphalong blasts. Still, the Burmese authorities are targeting us,” said Zin Naing, head of the BSO foreign affairs office in New Delhi.

The BSO lodged a protest with Burma’s embassy in New Delhi in February over the abduction of its activists, and arrest of Mrs. Chit and her child. But the embassy, Mr. Naing said, did not respond.

At the embassy, a staff member who would not disclose his name said no embassy officials were in the office to answer questions about Ei Po Po’s fate and the January abduction of the activists from India.

Most India-based Burmese pro-democracy activists think the incursion into India and abduction by the Burmese soldiers could not have taken place without the acquiescence of Indian authorities.

Dr. Thura who now lives 125 miles from Moreh, his place of work until Jan. 14, said: “India is a big and powerful country [compared to Burma ]. How can we believe that Burmese authorities didn’t obtain permission from their Indian counterparts before sending soldiers into India?

“We fear more such operations may take place in the future, targeting our activists living in India, and that Indian authorities will help them again in any action against us.”

About 2,000 Burmese refugees live in India. While most are in New Delhi, some live in refugee camps in the northeast Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram. Burma’s military government calls most of them “enemies.”

India not a ‘safe refuge’

A senior Burmese leader who asked not to be identified said: “We took refuge in India when India supported our pro-democracy activities and was critical of Burma’s authoritarian regime. But now the situation has changed. New Delhi needs Burma’s military government as a good friend and neighbor, and tries hard to keep Burmese authorities happy. At this point, India is not a safe refuge for us any more.”

Relations between India and Burma were not so cordial in the past. After the military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in 1988, India became a vocal supporter of Mrs. Suu Kyi, the popular leader now under house arrest in Rangoon, whose father Aung San won Burma’s independence from colonial Britain.

But due to concern about China’s expanding influence in Burma, the Indian government made a U-turn in the mid-1990s.

To counter Chinese influence in Burma, New Delhi started courting the generals in Rangoon. It became equivocal about its support for Mrs. Suu Kyi, began mending fences with the Burmese generals and actively sought better economic and military ties with Rangoon.

India recently helped Burma set up a data-processing center for remote-sensing applications. It will now help the government establish a ground station for receiving Indian remote-sensing satellite data that has varied uses.

Burma has agreed to sell natural gas to India, and India is conducting feasibility studies on the best way to transport the gas. Burma has also been helping India by carrying out military raids against anti-India insurgents in jungle hide-outs on its territory, which New Delhi appreciates.

The writer asked that his name be withheld, fearing retaliation from the Burmese government.

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