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Ulfa deaths blow up in Dispur face

Guwahati, Nov. 1: Stung by the intervention of the human rights commission, Dispur today went into damage control mode over Wednesday’s encounter with insurgents in its backyard.

An embarrassed chief minister Tarun Gogoi today ordered police to “apprehend extremists alive” after the killing of two Ulfa militants in the heart of the city earlier this week snowballed into a major human rights violation issue. It has, in fact, landed the Congress government in a spot.

The Assam government also shunted out Guwahati superintendent of police Paresh Neog and additional SP Rana Bhuyan after the Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) registered a suo motu case over Wednesday’s encounter in which the two “Ulfa militants” were killed.

Neog — charged with “dramatising” the entire incident in front of hordes of photo journalists and TV crews — has been transferred to Lakhimpur as SP.

Lakhimpur superintendent of police H.C. Nath has been appointed the new city SP while Bhuyan has been transferred as additional SP, Dibrugarh. He replaces Sanjit Krishna, who has been transferred as additional SP (security) in the city. City additional SP Bibekananda Das will take over from Bhuyan.

With human rights groups raising a hue and cry over the incident, Gogoi even took the unusual step of “condemning” the police action of removing the body of one of the militants by tying it to a bamboo pole.

The axe fell on the two top city police officials as Gogoi took strong exception to the “disrespect” shown to the body of one of the slain rebels and to media reports that one of the Ulfa militants was “shot dead even after he had offered to surrender.”

The chief minister directed director-general of police Hare Krishna Deka to issue instructions to all superintendents of police to ensure that bodies of slain militants are not handled in an “inhuman manner.” He also directed the state police to take “proper precautions to apprehend extremists or any offender of law alive so that vital clues and strategic information could be obtained from them.”

“I express serious concern over the manner in which the city police had handled the arrest of the Ulfa militants on October 30, 2002 ... the way in which the body of the slain extremist was carried by the city police is condemnable. You are requested to issue instruction to all SPs that bodies of the deceased should not be handled in an inhuman manner,” Gogoi said in his directive to the DGP.

The city police were gloating over the “triumph” of killing two Ulfa militants on Wednesday, but this has blown up in its face, with the rights panel directing the DGP to conduct a probe into the manner in which the “alleged encounter” took place.

A full bench of the AHRC registered a suo motu case based on newspaper reports and photographs of the incident and ordered the DGP to submit the report to the commission by November 14.

A copy of the commission’s order was also sent to state chief secretary P.K. Dutta and home commissioner B.K. Gohain.

“Prima facie the commission is of the opinion that a report is necessary from the concerned authorities for its consideration. We take suo moto action. Register a case,” said the commission order, served on the chief secretary, the police chief and the home commissioner this afternoon.

Commission sources said the rights panel felt that the “alleged encounter” and the manner in which the body of the slain rebel was handled by the police “raised many questions of human rights violations”.

The encounter, which occurred close to the chief minister’s private residence in the Beltola area of the city, lasted for more than three hours. Nearly 200 policemen, including elite Black Panther commandos, surrounded a house where one of the rebels took shelter after his comrade died in the initial exchange of fire.

Mediapersons and other eyewitnesses overheard the militant offering to surrender but the policemen, led by the SP, stormed into the house and shot him dead.

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