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India to end free movement policy with Myanmar for 'internal security'

NEW DELHI — India said on Thursday (Feb 8) it would end a decades-old visa-free movement policy with Myanmar for their border citizens for reasons of national security and to maintain the demographic structure of its northeastern region.

The move, announced by the home minister, comes days after he said the 1,643-km border would be fenced. Currently, people living within a 16-km zone on either side of the border are allowed visa-free movement.

"The Ministry of Home Affairs has decided that the Free Movement Regime between India and Myanmar be scrapped to ensure the internal security of the country and to maintain the demographic structure of India's north eastern states bordering Myanmar," Home Minister Amit Shah said in a statement.

Since a military coup in Myanmar in 2021, thousands of civilians and hundreds of troops have fled to Indian states where communities between the two countries share ethnic and familial ties. This has worried New Delhi because of risk of communal tensions spreading to India.

Some members of the Indian government have also blamed the porous international border for abetting the tense situation in India's restive Manipur state abutting Myanmar. For nearly a year Manipur has been engulfed by a civil war-like situation between two ethnic groups, one of which shares lineage with Myanmar's Chin tribe.

Addressing a weekly press conference, Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said the "situation along the border is serious".

A government official, who declined to be named, said India would have to inform Myanmar of its decision to scrap the movement policy but a suspension can happen immediately.

A Myanmar junta spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.