19 Myanmar police constables cross over to India seeking refuge

Police remove protesters' barricade during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw on March 4, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - At least 19 Myanmar police have crossed over to India's north-eastern state of Mizoram and are seeking shelter in the country, an Indian police official said on Thursday (March 4), adding that more were expected.

The men have crossed into Champhai and Serchhip, two districts in the northeastern state of Mizoram that share a porous border with Myanmar, the official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

All the men, who are lower-ranking policemen, were unarmed, the official said. "We are expecting more to come," he said, citing intelligence reports.

There have been several instances recounted on social media of police joining the civil disobedience movement and protests against the junta, with some arrested, but this is the first reported case of police fleeing Myanmar.

The official said that the policemen crossed over fearing persecution for disobeying orders and would be temporarily housed by local Indian authorities.

"What they said is they got instructions from the military rule, which they cannot obey so they have run away," said Mr Stephen Lalrinawma, the superintendent of police of Mizoram's Serchhip district, where the three men crossed over on Wednesday afternoon.

"They are seeking refuge because of the military rule in Myanmar," Mr Lalrinawma said.

India shares a 1,643km land border with Myanmar, where more than 50 people have been killed since the Feb 1 coup by the country's powerful military.

The junta overthrew a democratically-elected government, and detained its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, having disputed her party's landslide victory in November. India is already home to thousands of refugees from Myanmar, including ethnic Chin people and Rohingya who fled the South-east Asian country during previous bouts of violence.

A Chin community leader in New Delhi said police have rarely fled to India.

"This is something unusual," said James Fanai, president of the India-based Chin Refugee Committee. "Because in the past, police and military just follow orders." Myanmar's ruling military council has stressed the importance of police and soldiers doing their duty.

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