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Drones add new dimension to Myanmar junta vs Chin insurgents clashes near Indian border

On 3 February, anti-coup groups dropped 3 bombs using drones to target Myanmar Army, it is learnt. But a representative of govt in exile claims that drones are mostly used for recce.

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Guwahati: Insurgent groups in Myanmar have been using drones to target the junta forces in the troubled Sagaing Region and Chin State of the neighbouring country, Indian Army sources have told ThePrint.

The Sagaing Region borders India’s Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur, while Mizoram shares a 510 km-long border with Myanmar’s Chin State.

Both the Myanmar military and the anti-junta forces are believed to be extensively using drones in counter-offensives. The drones in the resistance groups’ arsenal are made from commercially available parts, almost similar in configuration to the MR-10 cargo drones used by the Indian Army, a defence source told ThePrint.

On February 1, Junta troops used drones to attack local defence forces during armed clashes at Thantlang township in Chin State, according to a Myanmarese news portal.

“The military used small arms and drones in their attacks,” Salai Htet Ni, a spokesperson for the Chin National Army (CNA) at Camp Victoria, was quoted by Mizzima as saying.

Five junta troopers were reportedly killed and one was injured. No fighters from the CNA or the locally based Chinland Defence Force Thantlang (CDF) were reportedly hurt.

Sources in the Indian Army, however, said the Chin forces stepped up attacks against the junta in the past 48 hours till Monday. On 3 February, two days after the firing and drone strike in Thantlang township, CNA/CDF dropped three bombs by drone at a village near Thantlang, targeting the Myanmar Army’s company outpost, Indian Army sources from the Eastern Command said.

No casualty was reported in the attack, but the site of bombing was about 10-15 km from the India-Myanmar border, the defence sources added.

The incident comes even as martial law remains imposed in all townships of Chin State except Paletwa, since 2 February.

ThePrint reached out to the CNA leadership for a confirmation, but no response was received till the filing of this report.

However, a representative of Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) — a government in exile formed in opposition to the junta — told ThePrint that People’s Defence Forces (PDF), including the CDFs, are also using drones,  but the purpose is “mostly for reconnaissance”.

PDF is the armed wing of the NUG comprising youth and pro-democracy activists.

“Generally speaking, 99 per cent PDFs cannot use drones for attacks. They are only used as reconnaissance assets. If someone could help us with drones for attacks, we would be grateful,” the NUG representative told ThePrint.

The Myanmar Now reported that the NUG had announced in September 2021 of forming an air force named Federal Wings. In a statement on October 1 last year, the Federal Wings claimed that it had killed a total of 48 regime personnel in 89 drone strikes carried out in Karen State’s Waw Lay, Kyainseikgyi and Kawkareik townships.

In winter offensives last year, the Myanmar Army resorted to three drone attacks on PDFs and the Chin ethnic armed organisations (EAO) in three months, Indian defence sources said.

While Chin insurgents launched drone attacks against the Myanmar Army at least four times in November-December, two strikes were reported in Sagaing Region in December, the sources said. There was supposedly no drone strike in Chin State prior to the February incident.

The anti-junta forces are said to have been using both drones and ground weapons for combat. In February last year, the NUG’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed coordinated efforts in the deployment of drones, but also said that it becomes challenging to communicate with all the PDFs across Myanmar.

The Tatmadaw — the armed forces of Myanmar — first started deploying drones mainly for surveillance purposes, such as scouting for PDF camps, The Diplomat reported. The Chinese-made drones were found to have been deployed several times — both to monitor the protesters and crack down on the armed resistance groups.

The Karenni Generation Z Army (KGZ-A), one of many anti-junta resistance groups formed in May 2021 in Karenni (Kayah) State, Myanmar’s smallest state bordering Thailand, reportedly trains other groups, both in person and online, in adapting drones for combat, according to The Diplomat.

The temporary base of a Chin resistance group under Myanmar’s Falam Region, which ThePrint visited last month, is complete with an armoury, and sections for drones, mines, and sniper units — but depends on food and medical supplies from India. The resistance forces face financial difficulties, and smaller groups are in need of heavy weapons.

Also Read: As Chin families flow into Mizoram, a tale of hope & fear in refugee camps near Myanmar border

Close to India’s borders 

The quiet life at the border villages of India and Myanmar has been occasionally disturbed by the sound of bombings over the Tiao river which serves as the natural boundary between the two countries.

On 10-11 January, two air raids targeted Camp Victoria in western Myanmar, about 10 km from Farkawn village in Mizoram’s Champhai district. Five people were killed in the bombings including two women, and 12 others injured.

Drone strikes by Myanmar Army and anti-junta Chin groups are a cause of concern, given the strategic location of the region, a China observer said.

“Happening just a few kilometers from the Indian borders, firstly, the Eastern Command will be distracted towards this sector at a time when the Chinese army is mobilised in Nyingchi prefecture in Tibet opposite to Arunachal. It’s just recently we had the Yangtse incident (in December) closer to Tawang.

“Secondly, drone technologies are introduced here for bombing missions. While no major casualties or damage has occurred, it indicates things to come in the near future,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, Professor in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“When Myanmar is reeling under ethnic tensions and with the recent military coup, the border with India will be under stress for a while.”

According to the United Nations, since the February 1 military coup two years ago, 17.5 million people require humanitarian aid in 2023, compared with 1 million before the takeover by the junta. Myanmar citizens have been driven from their homes, their villages burned and several killed in air and ground attacks.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Panic in Mizoram villages as Myanmar junta bombs insurgents — ‘need show of strength from Delhi’


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