Myanmar’s Rakhine state conflict puts Sittwe Port developed by India in jeopardy

The Arakan Army, a rebel group, has gained control of a significant portion of Myanmar’s Rakhine state following intense clashes with the military junta. The security of the strategically vital Sittwe Port, developed by India as part of the $484 million Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Project, is now at risk due to the ongoing conflict.

In response to the situation, India is closely monitoring Myanmar’s Rakhine state, weighing several options to safeguard the country’s interests in the strategically located port in the Bay of Bengal, said people aware of the matter.

The conflict has led to the displacement of thousands of individuals across the region, and the blockage of highways and waterways has made it difficult for people to travel, affecting the movement of goods to and from the port. Additionally, the uncertainty caused by the conflict has impacted the port’s potential to trade goods, gas, or oil to Northeast India through a strategic transport route.

Still under the control of the Myanmar Army since mid-January, the city has been without internet service and under a night curfew. While the ongoing intense battle is yet to reach Sittwe, as the area is densely inhabited by Rakhine people, who are assets for the Arakan Army, the Sittwe Port is being increasingly used by the junta to ship their goods and commodities and not by the civilian population, they said.

Recent clashes between the Myanmar junta and the Arakan Army, occurring last weekend, took place approximately 20 km away from Sittwe Port. The military’s objective is to regain control of the area and restrain the Arakan Army. The junta has been facing significant pressure from the Arakan Army in the Rakhine state for the past few months, leading to a loss of control in states bordering India and China.

In May 2023 India ports, shipping, and waterways, and Ayush minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Myanmar’s deputy Prime Minister Admiral Tin Aung San jointly inaugurated Sittwe Port. During that event, the two ministers received the first Indian cargo ship, which was flagged off from Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port, Kolkata.

This project was conceptualized to provide alternative connectivity between Mizoram and Haldia and other Indian ports through the Kaladan River in Myanmar. The port is designed to accommodate vessels with a maximum capacity of 20,000 Dead Weight Tonnage (DWT) and, is expected to enhance bilateral and regional trade, reduce transportation costs and time, and lead to employment opportunities and economic development of northeast states under India’s Act East policy. The project envisages road transport from Mizoram to Paletwa in Myanmar, from Paletwa to Sittwe by inland water transport, and from Sittwe to any port in India by maritime shipping. Myanmar Army still controls Paletwa.

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