The protest rally taken out by thousands of young people, mostly students, in Tamu, Myanmar, on December 24, over the boundary dispute between the country and India has underpinned the need to expedite the commencement of discussion between the two countries on the issue. While Manipur seethes at the reported incursion on its territory by Myanmar, tension had been brewing on the opposite side on the same contention.
The claims and counter-claims by both sides were not totally unexpected. Firstly, Manipur and the erstwhile Burma have a longstanding history of claiming rights and dominion to the same area in the past too. Moreover, at the disputed sites there are no natural boundaries like a river or creek, and as such the border is very vague and unclear. In this particular case, the Myanmarese residents around Tamu have lodged a protest insisting that Indian citizens have built settlements and moved a border post two miles deep into Myanmar territory. They further demanded the cessation of work at the Integrated Check Point on their contention that the land on which it is being built lies in Myanmar soil. On the other hand, the Manipur claimed the villagers of Hollenphai belonging to the state left their homes along the border after incursion by Myanmar military who established a base and began deployment. Moreover, protracted disagreement exists over the position of several boundary posts and ongoing border fencing.
Both sides appeared rigid and unalterable in placing their contentions. The nature of the differences does not raise hope of any chance of an immediate settlement based on give and take. At the same time, relationship between the two nations has been on the path of steady improvement in the recent past and extreme measures to bring about a solution, like the possibility of use of war threat or actual war seemed far-fetched. Therefore, the only visible option to thrashing out the conflict and prevent its escalation is to quickly open up communication at the highest level with the participation of the local parties. Although the problem had become conspicuous and open protests were observed in the last few months, the undercurrent have been in existence much longer. Both the Indian and Myanmarese governments, signatories to an MoU on border area development, recognized the vague boundary as a tight spot but now they cannot afford to side step it. The impasse must not be allowed to turn into a nasty fight taking the parties involved into a collision course. Manipur and its neighboring Myanmarese provinces enjoyed mutually profitable border trade for ages and earnest steps for negotiation on the unresolved issues should begin. A beginning for improving the tension could be made by identifying the constructions which should be stopped and which could be continued.