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Army Chief Rawat’s remarks on Myanmar raid leaves Centre red-faced

While India is working to improve ties with Myanmar, comments by the Chief of the Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, confirming for the first time that Indian troops crossed into Myanmar in 2015 for operations, are being seen as a cause for concern, officials of the Home and External Affairs Ministries have told The Hindu.

However, neither Ministry agreed to comment on the issue. The government has been trying to get Myanmar’s support for its efforts to control cross-border movement of Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland rebels and Rohingya refugees.

“The Army Chief should have been mindful of the realities in Myanmar and our efforts there. Such detailed discussion on the operations wouldn’t help the situation at all,” a senior official in the security establishment, who asked not to be named, said.

At a book release function in Pune on Friday, General Rawat elaborated on the cross-border raid carried out by the Army on NSCN-K militant hideouts in Myanmar. He particularly underlined the the difficulties that Special Force commandos faced in Myanmar “after crossing over” and the “heavy losses” they inflicted on the militant camp there. It is the first time a senior government functionary has given such extensive details of the operation.

Gen. Rawat was commanding the Dimapur-based 3 Corps when the surgical strike was carried out on June 10, 2015, in retaliation for an ambush in Manipur when 18 soldiers of 6 Dogra battalion were killed by Myanmar-based militants.

Into the details ::

Gen. Rawat, who was tasked with overseeing the operation, even told the Pune gathering that he had to alter the original plan because of a call from National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who asked for the commando team leader to be recalled and briefed before launching operations.

“I got a call from the National Security Advisor asking if I had something in mind. I was a little taken aback because I had already launched the troops for the operation; they were on their way,” Gen. Rawat said.

“The troops which had reached the Myanmar border had to later change their route while carrying out the operation, four days from the day it was initially planned,” he said, revealing that the special commandos donned the uniforms of the 12 Bihar Battalion, which was deployed on the border, to carry out the raid.

While military sources had circulated some details of the operation at the time, the Indian government had moved in quickly to stop any official reports after the Myanmar government and military objected, saying only that operations had been carried out “along the border”.

“We will not allow any foreign military operations in Myanmar territory,” Zaw Htay, the Director in the Myanmar President’s office, had told presspersons a day after the strikes. “Every country must respect the other country’s sovereignty.”

According to Myanmar’s constitution Article 41&42, no foreign troops can be deployed within the country’s boundaries for any reason. In a visit to Delhi in October 2016, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi had also reportedly repeated the concerns to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue. , and the joint statement issued by the leaders had “underlined their mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity” when speaking of joint operations against terrorists.

In particular, the government is worried as it is in the process of sensitive negotiations on the Rohingya situation, and had also claimed some success in military to military ties with the first ever India-Myanmar Bilateral Military Exercise (IMBAX-2017) at the Joint Warfare Centre at the Umroi Joint Training Node in Meghalaya on November 20.

Gen. Rawat’s statement is seen as a major gaffe, particularly his assertion that more such surgical strikes could be undertaken “if required”. A senior official said the diplomatic concerns had been conveyed to him.

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