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‘If we don’t obey, they shoot us’ — why many Myanmar policemen are escaping to India

According to Mizoram govt, 383 Myanmar nationals have come into the state since the coup. However, the figure could be ‘much higher’.

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New Delhi: It’s been seven days since a 26-year-old policeman from Myanmar, now in Mizoram, has spoken to his elderly parents, who remain in his besieged homeland. 

The policeman arrived in the northeastern state, which shares an over 500-km border with Myanmar, this month to escape what he describes as the brutality unleashed by the military in the wake of last month’s coup.

He joined the Myanmarese police force two years ago to protect the people of his country. However, in the days following the coup, he was ordered to shoot and torture the same people as they rose in protest, he told ThePrint. 

“I joined the security forces to maintain law and order. The gun can’t be used to kill innocents — my own people,” he said. 

He is not alone. Another 26-year-old Myanmarese policeman who has also escaped to Mizoram says he is haunted by the “bloody faces” of two friends and colleagues who were “shot in their head when they refused to obey orders”. He has left his family — parents, and his brother and sister — behind as well.

The two policemen are among dozens of refugees who have arrived in Mizoram since last month to escape the year-long emergency imposed in Myanmar. Many of these refugees are policemen, who say their decision to flee was driven by orders to join the military’s crackdown against anti-coup protesters. 

As of Thursday, 2,258 individuals have been arrested, charged or sentenced in Myanmar in connection with the anti-coup protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group based in Thailand. The group estimates that 224 people have been killed since the protests against the 1 February coup.

The Union government has directed the four border states that share a border with Myanmar to identify and deport the refugees that have arrived in India since last month.

However, the state government in Mizoram, where the dominant Mizos share close ethnic ties with natives of Myanmar’s Chin region, has offered them food and shelter. MP K. Vanlalvena of the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF), a BJP ally, has stated that they can’t send back the refugees right now.

On Friday, a four-member delegation formed by Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga, including MPs C. Lalrosanga and Vanlalvena, met Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand in Delhi, where they discussed the “pressing need to extend necessary help and support to Myanmar refugees who a re victims of violence and brutality under military rule in Myanmar”.

They ruled out the possibility of deporting them until the situation in Myanmar normalises, and urged India to play a more proactive role in support of people fighting for restoration of democracy in the neighbouring country, according to a statement issued by the Mizoram government.


Also Read: Myanmar’s military coup — what led to it and the strategic stakes for India


‘Field of violence’

The first policeman quoted above walked for three days and then crossed the Tinau river to reach Mizoram. He said Myanmar is right now a “field of violence… and bloodshed” where one can only “helplessly mourn” the death of loved ones. 

“Military is forcing police personnel to shoot at protesters and anybody they suspect is revolting. If we don’t obey, they shoot us, subject us to brutality, they threaten to subject our family members to lethal violence. They arrest and torture hundreds on a daily basis,” the policeman said. 

The second policeman told ThePrint that he is struck by the sight of his friends getting shot every time he closes his eyes.

“I can’t close my eyes, their faces, bloody heads come in my dreams. I couldn’t do anything to save them,” he added. 

“Some of my colleagues opened fire on orders, but I couldn’t do it. How can I shoot people? How can I drag and torture men, women, children of my country?”

Many of the refugees from across the border have found shelter with a Myanmarese school teacher who came to India with his family in 1988 — when Myanmar witnessed a massive uprising seeking democracy that was finally crushed by the military. It was the 1988 uprising that led to Aung San Suu Kyi’s emergence as a pro-democracy icon of global recognition. 

The teacher says he has helped provide asylum to at least 145 people from Myanmar since the coup. Speaking to ThePrint, he said at least 5-10 people reach him everyday. 

“I have been accommodating as many people as possible. Some of them have been sent to other friends and relatives since I can host only 50-60 people at one time,” he added. 

“They come here through areas where there are no Assam Rifles personnel posted, mostly through the river. Ninety per cent of the refugees are police personnel,” he said.

The second policeman quoted above said he is scared about the prospect of being sent back. “The Indian government must not send us back now, we have nowhere else to go,” he added.


Also Read: India is strangely silent about Myanmar’s coup — there are two strategic reasons


Close ethnic ties

Myanmar’s Chin state shares a 404-km porous border with six districts of Mizoram — Champhai, Lawngtlai, Siaha, Saitual, Hnahthial and Serchhip. 

Most refugees coming in from Myanmar belong to the Chin ethnic group that inhabits the eponymous state. They comprise the Lai, Tedim-Zomi, Luse, Hualngo and Natu tribes, which are related to the dominant Mizos in Mizoram, as well as the Kuki-Zomis of Manipur. 

According to the Mizoram government, 383 Myanmar nationals have come into the state since the coup. However, government sources said on the condition of anonymity that the figure is “much higher”, and the majority are police personnel.

“Most of those fleeing Myanmar are police personnel. Locals, NGOs and the church are helping them with aid. The Mizo people have familial ties with them,” a senior advisor-level state government official told ThePrint. 

Earlier this month, the authorities in a Myanmar district reportedly wrote to the Mizoram government, seeking the return of the policemen “in order to uphold friendly relations between the two neighbouring countries”.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has directed the chief secretaries of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram to identify and deport all Myanmarese refugees.

A senior central government official said “states don’t have the power to give refugee status, which is why officials have been asked to report on refugees entering the country”. “Border states have to follow the SOP,” the official added.

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga refused to comment on the matter. “I can’t speak on it because the Government of India likes to be silent on this matter,” he said. However, he has promised food and shelter to the refugees.

An earlier version of this report incorrectly mentioned Assam as one of the four states that border Myanmar. The error is regretted.


Also Read: ‘I could be next’ — US-returned entrepreneur fears for his life in Myanmar anti-coup protests


 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. India has interests in Burma, which constrain its words and actions on the military takeover. However, sending back to almost certain death or long incarceration people who have fled – led by principled policemen who refused to shoot and kill young freedom fighters – would be an indelible blot and stain on our democracy. It would invite global censure and opprobrium, starting with other Quad members. No matter how often it is overruled, the Foreign Office should tender good advice.

  2. We should salute these policemen who refused to shoot their own citizens. We must see that they are given some help until the situation in Burma normalises.

    • Not only these, our very own Delhi police officers are no less valiant and courageous. When they were attacked by swords and run over with tractors by terrorists and anti – India forces on 26th January, they did not use even a single bullet against them. Although a habitual offender Journalist tried to peddle lies and perpetuate violence against the state, later on video evidence proved that not even a SINGLE BULLET was fired by Delhi Police. Police followed Home Ministry orders even putting their lives in danger. While we must appreciate other country’s people, we must also remember the sacrifices made by our own.

      • If the Millitary win in Myanmar, the Chinese missile system will be install in coco island(some said it’s already installed under the permission given by Myanmar Millitary Junta. Coco island situated near Andaman and Nicobar Island) to treat the Indian people. Indian Government need to choose her side with the people of Myanmar not the military Junta who favor The Chinese.

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