GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) - India needs to seal its border with Myanmar to stop separatist rebels carrying out regular attacks in the northeast, officials said on Wednesday, a day after a powerful blast killed 17 people in Manipur.
Police said a bomb on a bicycle blew up in Imphal, the state capital, late on Tuesday. At least 40 people were wounded in the attack that police believe was revenge for security forces killing at least eight rebels last month.
Police suspect the separatist People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) in Manipur, a state which has suffered separatist and tribal insurgencies for the past 60 years in the troubled northeast region.
The rebels escaped across a largely unguarded border to their camps in neighbouring Myanmar, police said.
Manipur shares a long porous border with Myanmar of around 370 km and security officials want the entire stretch to be barbed-wired to stop smuggling of weapons and explosives.
Ringed by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, India’s northeast is home to more than 200 tribes and has been racked by separatist revolts since India gained independence from Britain in 1947.
“We want the centre (federal government) to fence the border, we cannot let them (PREPAK) escape after the incident,” Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh told Reuters on Wednesday.
The rebel group wants to throw non-Manipuris out of the state and demands statehood, which India says is not possible.
About 700 armed PREPAK rebels have carried out regular attacks in the state, including firing a shell at the chief minister’s fortified home last month.
“It definitely is a cause for concern at a time when violence in other parts of the region seems to be declining,” C. Uday Bhaskar, a strategic analyst said.
In Imphal, police cordoned off the blast site, near a commando training facility and forensic experts were examining pieces of metal to find out what caused the powerful blast.
“Our plan is to fence the border and step up foot patrolling along the border, otherwise it will be difficult to control the situation,” a senior intelligence officer said from Imphal.
India says around 3,000 rebels, live and train in the camps inside the jungles of Kabaw Valley of Myanmar’s Sagaing Division.
“We know where militants have their camps across the border, but we can’t go inside Myanmar chasing them,” said a senior military commander who requested not to be named.
India has a pact with Myanmar to share intelligence, but officials said it was not enough to stop the insurgency.
Militant groups accuse New Delhi of plundering the region’s mineral and forest resources but investing little in return.