New Delhi, Apr 8 : On March 12, a question was raised in the Lok Sabha if insurgent groups in the northeastern states have been acquiring sophisticated weapons from China via Myanmar. Minister of state for home M Ramachandran replied in the negative saying that the Chinese leadership has assured that the country will not fan insurgency or encourage separatist elements in the region.
However, photographic evidence seems to suggest otherwise.
Two photographs accessed by TOI show Chinese characters (possibly indicating firing modes) on an AK-56 rifle, and ULFA cadres assembling sophisticated Heckler & Koch 33 assault rifles somewhere in the jungles of the region. A senior Assam Police officer involved in counter-insurgency operations says they are aware of ultras using sophisticated weapons.
"The favourite sidearm of insurgents nowadays is what we call the star pistol. It's highly accurate and very stable. The ones we have seized don't have the 'Made in China' tag, but have a star and a logo. The star probably is the red star that communist countries use. We have not seized any HK 33 rifle so far, but we know they have it," he says.
The HK 33 assault rifle has a higher muzzle velocity and rate of fire than the AK-47, the preferred weapon of guerrilla fighters all over the world.
The ULFA cadres, like many other militant outfits in the region, allegedly get these weapons from four major arms syndicates based out of Yunnan, China. The syndicates buy these weapons in auctions allegedly held by the Royal Thai Armed Forces every few years.
"These syndicates are believed to be run by retired People's Liberation Army (PLA) men with good access to Chinese military resources," says Rajeev Bhattacharya who has written a pictorial book on militancy titled 'Lens and the Guerrilla: Insurgency in India's Northeast'. He adds that insurgent groups who fail to strike deals with Thai or Burmese arms cartels straightaway approach the Yunnan syndicates that facilitate the deals and supply of consignments through Myanmar. "I was in an ULFA camp when they received the HK 33 consignment. The factory marks and serial numbers had been scratched off, making it difficult for anyone to make out where these weapons originated, but these weapons didn't seem old and performed really well in the firing range."
So is it advantage rebels now? "Not quite. Any sophisticated weapon could be more of a liability than an asset if it's not handled by a conventional army," says strategic analyst Major General (retd) Dipankar Banerjee. "In Myanmar, the Kachin rebels are well supplied and fight pitched battles; they can afford to fight with sophisticated weapons. But in the northeast, rebels face a lot of constraints; years of army operations have blocked many supply routes and brought down weapon proliferation in the region. They need a weapon that needs bare minimum maintenance and also comes cheap. AK is such a weapon." He adds that after the Sheikh Hasina government came to power in Bangladesh, the arms trade through that country has come down substantially. "That is the reason why the insurgents have once more started buying arms from Myanmar and Thailand. This activity may have some tacit support from the Chinese government."