Indian border state pushes Prime Minister Modi to do more in Myanmar

An Indian national flag flies next to an immigration check post on the India-Myanmar border in Zokhawthar village
FILE PHOTO: An Indian national flag flies next to an immigration check post on the India-Myanmar border in Zokhawthar village in Champhai district of India's northeastern state of Mizoram, India, March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

March 22, 2021

By Devjyot Ghoshal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – An Indian border state, into which more than 1,000 people from Myanmar have sought refuge, is pushing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration to engage with representatives of the southeast Asian country’s ousted elected government.

By calling for the restoration of democracy but unwilling to openly condemn the military, which staged a coup on Feb. 1, India’s federal government has taken a cautious approach towards Myanmar despite an escalation in violence.

But the chief minister of the northeastern state of Mizoram said on Sunday that he had held talks with a member of a committee of ousted lawmakers in Myanmar, which is attempting to reestablish the civilian government.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with #Myanmar in these trying times,” Chief Minister Zoramthanga, who uses only one name, wrote in a tweet, after talking online with Zin Mar Aung, who has been named by the lawmakers’ committee as its foreign minister.

Mizoram shares close ties with parts of Myanmar. Many of the people who have sought shelter in the remote Indian state since late February are defecting policemen and their families.

A group of officials from Mizoram also held meetings with India’s federal home ministry last week, asking New Delhi to help people fleeing Myanmar and urging the government to assist the pro-democracy movement.

“We have to help them in the time of need,” Mizoram lawmaker K. Vanlalvena, who attended the meetings, said in an interview.

“We asked the Indian government to involve (itself) more in the local politics of Myanmar.”

India’s home ministry had previously directed border states to stop the influx from Myanmar and deport those who had crossed over.

The home and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

At least 250 people have been killed and thousands detained in Myanmar since Feb. 1, with security forces attempting to stamp out widespread pro-democracy protests.

The junta has previously said it only uses force when necessary. It has also said the takeover was necessary because a Nov. 8 election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was fraudulent, an accusation rejected by the electoral commission.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Jonathan Oatis)