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Burma Launches Offensive Against Indian Separatists - 2004-01-06


Burma has launched an offensive to drive Indian separatists out of its territory. The move to eliminate rebel bases in one of India's neighboring states comes a few weeks after a similar offensive was launched by Bhutan - another country that borders India.

The Burmese offensive is taking place along the mountainous border region separating India's Nagaland from Burma's Sagaing region. The area is believed to be home to dozens of camps set up by Indian separatist groups, from which they can launch attacks on the Indian military.

Indian officials say Burma's main target in the operation is the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. The separatists say that they were promised a separate homeland for ethnic Nagas when Britain gave up colonial rule over India in 1947. When that did not happen, the group launched an insurgency in India's remote northeast against rule by New Delhi.

Last month, Bhutan's military also began an offensive against Indian separatists hiding in its territory - the first modern military exercise the tiny, Himalayan kingdom has ever undertaken.

Analysts say two nations probably acted because they have strong relations with India. The rebels also create problems for Bhutan and Burma - which is also called Myanmar.

"Once they establish themselves on the territory of a neighboring state, they pretty much become a law unto themselves," says Bharad Karnad, a security analyst with the Center for Policy Research, a New Delhi think-tank. "One of the ways of funding is dope-running and so on - and in Myanmar that is extremely prevalent."

Mr. Karnad says the Naga separatists have been engaged in intermittent talks with New Delhi to try to hammer out a deal for them to drop their independence demands in exchange for a degree of autonomy. He says the military offensive by Burma may help persuade separatist leaders to pursue a peaceful solution. "That will put pressure on these very elements - the Naga leaders who are talking with leaders and those who are still reticent - to somehow come to an agreement or seek solutions."

Indian officials say Bhutan's military has killed at least 90 Indian separatists, including some leaders, and destroyed about 30 camps in their operations. Separatists from a handful of groups have been fighting for greater rights for ethnic minorities in the border states of Assam and West Bengal.

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