ZOKHAWTHAR, India (Reuters) – Two days after rebel forces in Myanmar’s Chin state overran the junta’s two military bases close to the border with India, they have taken control of a border crossing point between the two countries across the tiny hilly Indian state of Mizoram.
Most of the nearly 5,000 Myanmar nationals who had fled to India to escape intense fighting between the rebels and Myanmar military since early Monday morning had returned home as the situation calmed down, local leaders said.
Rebel forces intend to take control of part of the porous border with India.
Myanmar’s generals are facing their biggest test since they seized power in a 2021 coup after three ethnic minority forces launched a coordinated offensive in late October, capturing some towns and military posts.
The offensive, named by rebels as “Operation 1027” after the date it began, initially made inroads in junta-controlled areas on the border with China in Shan State, where military authorities have lost control of several towns and more than 100 security outposts.
Since then, fighting has spread to two new fronts in the western states of Rakhine and Chin.
While calm had largely returned to the serene valley along the Indo-Myanmar border on Wednesday afternoon, air raid sirens could be heard in India’s Zokhawthar village from the Myanmar side warning residents of potential strikes by the military.
Surrounded by lush green hills, the Chin flag was hoisted on a gate that welcomed visitors to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar at the Zokhawthar border crossing.
India’s paramilitary Assam Rifle and armed rebels on the Myanmar side guarded the two ends of the border bridge over Tiau river, which people crossed freely on Wednesday.
A source in the Chinland Defence Force group said it would guard the border with two other rebel groups – the People’s Defence Force and the Chin National Army. “We will also guard another strategic locations nearby,” he said.
Ramtharnghaka, President of the local Zokhawthar chapter of the civil society group Young Mizo Association, said that most the Myanmar nationals who had crossed over were from nearby towns.
“While some stayed at a community hall, others were taken in by their friends and relatives,” he said, adding that most had now gone back.
Among those fleeing the attacks near Zokhawthar on Monday were 43 Myanmar soldiers who escaped the surprise attack by the rebels and entered India.
The Indian authorities eventually sent most of them back by flying them to another border crossing point a few hundred km east.
(Reporting by Chanchinmawia in Zokhawthar; Writing by Krishn Kaushik; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)