Umiam, June 19 (IANS): Three members of a Myanmarese arms smuggling gang have been arrested in Meghalaya with a huge cache of arms, police said on Sunday.
"Acting on a tip-off, we arrested three persons late last night and seized eight AK-56 rifles and eight magazines from a vehicle at Lad Umroi area," Claudia A. Lyngwa, the police chief of Ri-Bhoi district, told IANS.
Lad Umroi area, about 15 Km north of Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, is located at the trijuction (Shillong, Guwahati and Umri airport)of national highway 40.
The arrested smugglers, identified as Lalchawisanga Zahau, 45, C.L. Hlira, 47, and Lallawmzuala, 34, were travelling with the weapons from Piau village in Mizoram's Champhai district bordering Myanmar, Lyngwa said.
The trio belongs to the Chin ethnicity of Myanmar, he added.
"The weapons were hidden in a secret compartment under the seats of a Gypsy which the trio was travelling in, from Mizoram, believed to be meant for the outlawed ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom)," Lyngwa said.
Efforts are on to find out the actual suppliers and their links with the rebel groups operating in the northeastern states, she said.
India shares a 1,600 km unfenced border with Myanmar, with 404 km being shared by Mizoram.
If Indian intelligence agencies are to be believed, Myanmarese nationals have made Shillong their "rendezvous point" for arms transactions with northeast rebels.
In fact, an intelligence agency had alerted the Meghalaya Police of former 'captain' of Chin National Army (CNA), Tialkulhtang, of smuggling arms and ammunition from Mandalay in Myanmar.
"Tialkulhtang, a known arms smuggler, is in the process of smuggling consignment of arms and ammunition meant for some rebel groups operating in the region," an intelligence official told IANS on condition of anonymity.
The porous international borders, thick with forests, along the northeastern states of Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura have been used by the illegal weapons syndicate to smuggle small and medium arms and ammunition, besides explosives, to northeastern militant groups.
"These Burmese Mizo (Myanmarese ethnic Chin) have made Shillong as their safe haven taking advantage of tribal Indian Mizos who have settled here," said a senior Meghalaya Police officer, requesting anonymity.
"Many of these militants from Myanmar maintain a good relation with northeast groups and they are getting protection for procurement of arms and ammunition," he said.
The officer further added that although it is unclear where the arms and ammunition would land, it is certain that talks are on for a possible transaction in this regard.
Most of the weapons, including AK-47 and AK-56 assault rifles, mortars, 40 mm rocket launchers, pistols, revolvers and grenades come via the Arakans - a mountainous area in Myanmar - from parts of Thailand and Cambodia, he added.
The arms consignments are often routed by sea through the Bay of Bengal to its destination in the Arakan forest in Myanmar, which is across Mizoram, before making their way to rebel groups active in the northeast.
The area is controlled by Arakan insurgent groups opposed to Myanmar's military junta.
Intelligence officials in the region have confirmed the presence of sophisticated range of weapons with militant groups in the northeast, including surface-to-air missiles.