NEW DELHI: India’s interior minister said on Thursday (Feb 8) that he had “recommended the immediate suspension” of a free movement border agreement with Myanmar, from where thousands have fled since fighting between the junta and its opponents surged last year.
Amit Shah said the foreign ministry was already “in the process of scrapping” the deal, which allows those living in border zones to venture a short distance into their neighbouring nation’s territory without a visa.
Many in the border zones share close cultural and religious ties.
Shah said it was necessary “to ensure the internal security of the country and to maintain the demographic structure” of regions bordering Myanmar.
That includes India’s restive Manipur state, where more than 200 people have been killed since clashes broke out last May between the predominantly Hindu Meitei majority and mainly Christian Kuki community.
Many of those who have fled to India from Myanmar share ethnic ties with the Kukis.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, from the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said on Thursday in a post on X that ending free movement was key to “curbing illegal immigration and strengthening our internal security”.
Parts of Myanmar near the Indian border have seen frequent clashes since Arakan Army (AA) fighters attacked security forces in November, ending a ceasefire that had largely held since a 2021 military coup.
Hundreds of soldiers from Myanmar and thousands of civilians have crossed into India.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, fighting in Myanmar spilled over the border this week, with shells fired during clashes there killing at least two people on Monday.
Last month Shah said India planned to erect a 1,643km fence along the porous border with Myanmar, which ranges from remote jungle to soaring snow-capped Himalayan peaks.
“The Modi government is committed to building impenetrable borders,” he said on Tuesday.
Shah said the border fence would include a paved road along its length, adding that a 10km stretch in Manipur had already been completed.
India has already fenced more than 2,000km of its border with Pakistan, and at least 3,100km with Bangladesh, according to government statistics from 2021.
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