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Thousands of people took part in two rallies — organised by the Zo Re-Unification Organisation (ZORO) — in Mizoram on Thursday to protest the Central government’s decision to fence the India-Myanmar border and scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) between the two countries.

The peaceful protest rallies were held at Zokhawthar and Vaphai villages in Champhai district bordering Myanmar, and many people from the neighbouring country also took part in these rallies. Numerous people from Myanmar also participated in the protest rallies.

ZORO general secretary L. Ramdinliana Renthlei said that protesting the Centre’s decision to fence the India-Myanmar border and scrapping the FMR, thousands of men and women took part in the two rallies at Vaphai and Zokhawthar along Myanmar borders.

He said that in view of the protest rallies, all government offices and schools in the two bordering villages remained closed on Thursday.

A similar protest rally was also organised in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district, Renthlei said.

The protesters also held placards and banners, demanding the continuation of FMR in border areas and asserted that people belong to the same Zo or Zomi ethnic group and have been living together for decades. The ZORO, a leading and influential Mizo organisation, for the past many years seeks reunification of all people belonging to Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi tribes of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar under one administrative unit. The erstwhile British rulers while demarcating the borders earlier divided the Zo tribal communities in different countries, it said.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma earlier told the ZORO leaders that he had already discussed the fencing and FMR issues with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah and requested them to maintain the ‘status quo’.

The FMR allows people of both countries to cross up to 16 km on both sides of the international border without any passport or visa.

Mizoram shares a 510 km unfenced border with Myanmar’s Chin state and the indigenous Mizos share ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties with people belonging to the Chin-Zomi-Kuki community.

The Mizoram government, various ruling and opposition parties, civil society organisations including influential NGO Young Mizo Association and student bodies have strongly opposed the Centre’s decision to fence the India-Myanmar border and lift the FMR as they believe that it would dissociate close contact between same ethnic communities of the two countries.

The Mizoram Assembly had on February 28 adopted a unanimous resolution, opposing the Centre’s decision to fence the border and abolish the FMR.

Citing the vulnerability of the 1,643 km unfenced India-Myanmar border spanning Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, and Mizoram, the Central government has decided to fence the entire border and to scrap the FMR.

Of the four northeastern states, the process to erect fencing has been started along the border in Manipur.

So far, a 10-km-long stretch in Manipur’s Moreh has already been fenced, and the work for another approximately 20 km along the state has also been sanctioned by the Union Home Ministry.