Hubs, Routes and Rates: Most of the consignments used to originate in Thailand, which received arms from China and Cambodia. Ships with arms would reach Cox Bazar and other regions of Chittagong, which were then taken to different destinations in the Northeast. Sonamura in Tripura, Jayantia and Garo Hills in Meghalaya and Dhubri in Assam were the favoured entry points for supply to NSCN-IM, ULFA, Bodo and Manipuri rebels. But two incidents in 1995–1996—Operation Golden Bird by the Indian army in Mizoram and a mysterious blast in a ship carrying weapons—shifted the focus to the overland and riverine routes through Myanmar as safer and less time-consuming. Added to this was the tough posture against militants and gunrunners by the army-backed regime that assumed power in Dhaka in 2006 and the current Awami League–led government that ruptured the earlier congenial ambience for these activities in Bangladesh.
It is a common refrain among Indian army and police officials that NSCN and Kuki militants often go to Myanmar empty handed and return laden with arms.
In late 2009, NSCN-IM’s intelligence chief Anthony Shimray procured weapons from Yunnan, which he wanted to transport through Bangladesh, but the directorate general of forces intelligence (DGFI) refused permission. Subsequently, the consignment had to be taken to the Buthidaung jetty on the banks of the Mayu river in Myanmar and thence to different locations.22
Deals are struck at Ruili in Yunnan, but another town Tengchong has emerged in the same province in China where consignments are released to be sent across Myanmar to select spots along the Indo-Myanmar border.23 These two routes branch off into different directions in Myanmar, with even the Irrawady and Chindwin rivers now being used profusely for faster passage. A senior NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K) cadre said his chairman S. S. Khaplang derives a regular income by taxing boats that ferry arms through the Chindwin. Consignments are offloaded and arms stacked at some points (like Tamu) till orders are received from the Northeast. Phek in Nagaland, Chandel and Churachanpur in Manipur and Champai in Mizoram are the entry points to other destinations in the region.
It is a common refrain among Indian army and police officials that NSCN and Kuki militants often go to Myanmar empty handed and return laden with arms. If caught, they simply say that the weapons are from the designated ceasefire camps and usually no case is made out against them. There have also been several cases when NSCN cadres have sold arms and ammunition to Dimasa militants, sometimes by stealing from the armoury at Camp Hebron near Dimapur.24 Individual agents also sometimes make direct purchase from these villages and sell it elsewhere. On 25 July 2009, two Naga youths, Akam Konyak and Tinkam Konyak, were arrested at Namtola in Sivasagar district of Assam after they were caught trying to sell a pistol to a customer.
“¦small quantities may be off loaded at Jirikinding in Karbi Anglong district of Assam to be taken to other destinations
Routes inside India keep on changing, and they pass through National Highways, forests, hilly terrain and towns. The heavy deployment of security forces along the Moreh-Imphal-Kohima-Dimapur highway has increased the importance of the other road, which originates at Champhai in Mizoram and passes through Silchar, Ladrymbai, 8 Mile, Umrangsho, Jirikinding, Panimur Waterfalls (after crossing Kopili River) and N C Hills. At times, small quantities may be off loaded at Jirikinding in Karbi Anglong district of Assam to be taken to other destinations. Agents are found at selected towns and villages along the way or nearby areas who would place the order either at Moreh or Dimapur, the biggest hotspots in the Northeast for purchase of arms. In NC Hills, a well-known arms dealer Nambui Dumgbe was shot dead by Black Widow militants at Tumje on 17 March 2009 since he had sold weapons to a rival faction.
The network is sustained by a delicate understanding among militant groups, agents and, sometimes, government officials. Quite often, a group might ask for a part of the consignment as fees for taking them from one point to another and allowing passage through the territories they dominate. The UNLF colluded with the Myanmarese Chin National Front (CNF) to procure weapons from different destinations, and two major deliveries were received in 1996 and 1998.25