Indian blockade isolates Myanmar’s Rakhine, pressures Arakan Army to leave Chin State

Central Young Lai Association, an Indian civil society organization based in Mizoram, has blockaded the trade route used to import goods from India to war-wrecked Rakhine State through Chin State’s Paletwa Township to pressure the Arakan Army (AA) into leaving Chin State, The Irrawaddy reports.

The blockade further isolates Rakhine, which is already suffering from shortages and price hikes due to the junta’s blockade of roads and waterways since the AA launched its offensive in November.

After the AA seized Paletwa Township on Chin’s southern border with Rakhine in January, merchants have been using the Mizoram-Paletwa route to import goods from India through Paletwa to Rakhine.

Some ethnic Chin groups are however unhappy with the AA’s seizure of Paletwa.

In Chin State, the formation of the Chinland Council in December has split the state’s resistance forces into two major groups waging separate fights against the junta.

The Chinland Council is led by the Chin National Army (CNA), an armed group formed in 1988 to demand ethnic equality for Chin people.

Groups who oppose the Chinland Council have merged as the Chin Brotherhood.

The latter launched Operation Chin Brotherhood on June 9 to drive junta troops out of Myanmar’s poorest state, which borders Bangladesh and India. The operation was joined by the AA and Yaw Army from Magwe Region.

The Chinland Council has launched its own military operation to seize Matupi, and the two rival Chin groups recently clashed, resulting in casualties.

India’s Central Young Lai Association (CYLA) stated this week that it had halted all trade with Myanmar until further notice, saying cargo sent from Mizoram to Rakhine as aid for locals was being redirected to the AA, which is attacking Chin communities.

CYLA chairman HC Vanlalruatpula said: “We have blocked [roads] because of the fighting. The AA and its Chin Brotherhood allies are attempting to seize Matupi. We told them to stop the fighting, but they didn’t reply.”

CYLA is an India-registered civic group representing the Lai, an ethnic Chin tribe from Haka and Thantlang. The group reportedly supports the Chin National Army.

The CYLA has also urged locals in Mizoram’s Lawngtlai and Siaha districts to comply with the blockade.

The group previously blockaded the route on May 25, citing border security concerns. It reopened the route on June 12 following negotiations with the AA’s political wing, the United League of Arakan (ULA).

“The route is crucial” CYLA’s chair said.

“It also links ASEAN countries. The ULA will need to hold talks with us, and it must stop fighting. We will not reopen the road until the fighting ceases. This is our primary demand.”

He added that the CYLA controls all villages surrounding the road’s entrance.

The CYLA’s pressure tactic is likely to succeed, said one Paletwa resident, since northern Rakhine and Paletwa Township rely heavily on Indian goods, including food, pharmaceuticals, and fuel.

“The AA sends goods from Lawngtlai to Rakhine townships like Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U through Paletwa. Chin residents in Paletwa don’t rely on those goods. They have been displaced, and they can survive on crops even if they don’t have rice,” he said.

The blockade will also impact India’s Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project, said Chin analyst Naisok Thang, who has been monitoring the anti-regime movement in Chin State.

“The current trade route links northeast India with Assam, Mizoram and Meghalaya, stretching over 2,000 miles [3,200 km]. That distance is halved if the Sittwe-Paletwa-Mizoram-Kolkata route is used instead. The blockade will affect the whole of northeast India.”

The India-funded Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project aims to connect Kolkata with Rakhine’s capital of Sittwe by sea. In Myanmar, the project will link Sittwe’s seaport to Paletwa via the Kaladan River before connecting to landlocked Mizoram state in northeast India by road.

The AA controls the entire route except for Sittwe.

Mizoram State MP Vanlalvena met AA officials in February to discuss construction of the project’s road section.

The Irrawaddy reached out to AA spokesman Khaing Thukha to ask about the CYLA’s blockade but got no reply.

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