Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh on Thursday welcomed the Centre’s decision to scrap India’s Free Movement Regime (FMR) agreement.
His counterparts in other northeastern States also hailed the announcement by Home Minister Amit Shah, which miffed political parties and NGOs in Mizoram and Nagaland.
The FMR allowed people living close to the 1,643 km India-Myanmar border to travel up to 16 km inside each other’s territory without a visa. The agreement was implemented in 2018 to encourage people-to-people contact under the Narendra Modi government’s Act East policy.
“The decision to scrap FMR is crucial for the internal security and demographic integrity of the northeastern states. The historic decision to fence the border will help curb illegal immigration and strengthen internal security,” Mr. Singh said.
He had initiated the move for scrapping the FMR and fencing the international border after blaming the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur since May 3, 2023, on “infiltrators” from Myanmar.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma agreed and said the border fence would also go a long way in checking the cross-boundary movement of extremists in the northeast.
“…In fact, [the Jawaharlal] Nehru Govt allowed 40 km visa-free entry under FMR, which was reduced to 16 km in 2004 and set for scrapping in 2024,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter) taking a swipe at Congress.
Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu thanked Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah “for their steadfast commitment to safeguarding our borders”.
However, groups such as the Young Mizo Association of Mizoram and the Zo United, which largely represents the Kuki-Zo groups of Manipur, and the Naga Students’ Federation in Nagaland opposed the Centre’s decision.
“The FMR should stay in place. You cannot ignore sociology and the history of tribals by trying to put a fence between brothers. People residing in the region are all from the same racial stock, with familial ties which are much older than the borders drawn up by the British,” Zo United said in a statement.
It said the governments and NGOs of Mizoram and Nagaland “are with us” on the FMR. “To abolish the FMR will be against the principles of the Look East and Act East policies of the Centre,” the organisation said.