India’s Kaladan project ‘almost dead’ after Paletwa fell to Arakan Army: senior Myanmar Opposition leader

Kaladan project “almost died” after border town captured by rebels in Rakhine: Myanmar opposition leader

February 08, 2024 09:40 pm | Updated 10:49 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Workers from Indian conglomerate Essar Group construct a port in Sittwe.

Workers from Indian conglomerate Essar Group construct a port in Sittwe. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

One of India’s flagship connectivity projects that was aimed at enhancing road and maritime connection with Southeast Asia has faced a definite setback after an important town in Myanmar was captured recently by a rebel group, a senior figure of Myanmar’s Opposition has stated. Speaking to The Hindu, the source said that the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP) has “almost died” after the rebel Arakan Army (AA) captured the Paletwa township near Mizoram border in January.

“There is no way that any connectivity project can take place in Rakhine State right now as the AA has established control in almost all the major towns and supply routes. As a result, the Kaladan project too has almost died as Paletwa is essential for this project and Paletwa is no longer in control of the military junta,” said the senior Opposition figure from Myanmar.

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KMTTP was aimed at connecting the port of Kolkata with the port of Sittwe in Rakhine or Arakan State which would then be connected to Mizoram by road and the Kaladan river which flows by Paletwa. But the restive province has witnessed serious clashes between the Myanmar military and the rebel AA. The source said the AA has established control over Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Thandwe, and major roads connecting these towns. AA has also captured Ann township which has Myanmar Army’s Western Command headquarters.

Kaladan project, which was estimated to cost around $500 million has been delayed for multiple reasons, including the Rohingya crisis that erupted in 2017. However, while the Rohingya crisis is rooted in religious and ethnic differences between the junta in Naypyidaw and Muslim Rohingyas, the conflict between the AA and the Myanmar military junta is not based on religious differences but fuelled by a nationalist aspiration of the Buddhist Arakanese population of the region which has been demanding a confederated or independent status. The population of Rakhine State is divided among the Buddhist Arakanese, Rohingyas and non-Rohingya Muslims, Christians, and other communities.

The fight between the AA and the junta’s forces reached a crucial turn on January 15 when the rebel forces captured Paletwa. This move has also roused concern of a tripartite conflict involving the junta’s forces, the AA, and rebels of the Chin State as Paletwa has been traditionally a Chin-majority township.

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The move by the AA however has not drawn an armed response from the Chin State’s ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) but the source in Myanmar said that it remains a possibility. “As of now the rebels in the Chin State — Chin National Front — have not reacted to the presence of the AA in Paletwa but the AA has established a strong presence in the township and has reached as far as the Myanmar-India border near Mizoram which shows they have crossed the traditional limits of Arakan,” said the source.

The conflict in Rakhine is however just one front of the many insurgencies that have intensified after the military junta returned to power through a coup three years ago. Apart from Rakhine, the Burmese generals are fighting similar EAOs in Chin, Sagaing, Shan, Kachin and Kayah State near the Thailand border. An inter-ethnic conflict featuring the Chin National Front’s guerrillas and the AA can compound the situation which at present includes a bipolar conflict between AA and the junta’s soldiers. “No inter-ethnic fighting has erupted generally so far but we don’t know what will happen in near future,” said the source.

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The Myanmar source said that the AA is in an advantageous position and it is a matter of time before they establish control over the entire State of Rakhine, an unprecedented situation. “They are now aiming for capturing the Sittwe port, which is one of the oldest ports and airports of Myanmar and they can do that as early as summer of this year. They have already surrounded Sittwe and have attacked the Myanmar Navy in Sittwe,” said the source who requested anonymity.

Both Sittwe and Paletwa were part of the Kaladan project that aimed to connect Kolkata to Mizoram through Myanmar. The Myanmarese figure said that the AA actually is aiming to capture Taunggup, which is located further down on the Rakhine coast. “The AA is apparently aiming to capture Sittwe and Kyakphyu, both of which have ties to India and China respectively. If AA captures both these areas then AA will be in a position to talk to India and China without going through Naypyidaw,” said the senior leader. India has urged its citizens not to travel to Rakhine in view of the worsening conflict situation.

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