Indefinite ban on free movement of Myanmar nationals hits border trade; affects livelihood of thousands of villagers

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Army personnel at the border overlooking Kabaw valley of Myanmar Manipur border.. File photo used for representational purpose only.

Army personnel at the border overlooking Kabaw valley of Myanmar Manipur border.. File photo used for representational purpose only. | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The indefinite ban on the free movement of Myanmar nationals affecting the cross-border trade at Moreh (Manipur) and Tamu (Myanmar) since early part of 2021 has driven out of work several thousands of people who have been earning comfortable income through open and clandestine business.

The official indication is that the move is to check the spread of COVID-19 and omicron variants. The medical facilities in border villages in Myanmar are below the mark and those villagers depend on the Manipur government hospital at Moreh and a few pharmacies in Moreh.

Victor Limthang, president of the influenctial Hill Tribes Council (HTC) Moreh said, “Trade ban and the restrictions on the movement of the foreign traders had affected the cross-border trade. The first ban was declared in the beginning of 2021. It was feared that the COVID-19 pandemic would affect Moreh and other parts of Manipur. People in the border villages are facing problems since there is no other means of earnings”. Though the COVID-19 is on the decline in Manipur there is still political turmoil in Myanmar.

On November 3, the HTC organised a meeting, which was also attended by Letpao Haokip, a a Minister from the district, and by district collector Ranjan Yumnam. It discussed ways and means for restoring free movement of the people on either side of the border. Officers from 6 and 20 Assam Rifles were also present. There have been several complaints saying that Assam Rifles personnel take a long time in checking the vehicles returning from Moreh at the permanent check post, about 12KM from the International Border.

Police at Moreh have been arresting Myanmar nationals in Manipur. Some of them were in possession of fake official documents. However, there has been no such arrest in Mizoram. Instead the Mizoram government has started demanding the “refugee status” for more than 40,000 persons who said to have sneaked into the State.

There is no trade activity at Moreh where the border trade was legalised in 1995. Another issue of concern is the untrammelled extortions from vehicles plying on the three National Highways, NH-2 (Imphal-Dimapur via Nagaland), NH-102 (Imphal-Moreh) and NH-2 (Imphal-Silchar). For unexplained reasons, the restrictions have not impacted drug trafficking, smuggling of gold biscuits, illegal firearms and many other contraband goods that do not appear in the approved list of the border-trade agreement.

Though narcotics drugs are seized almost all weeks, many were not booked. This is mainly due to the fact that in the absence of drug-testing kits, it takes ages to establish that the seized materials are narcotics drugs.

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