Nov. 3: Intelligence warnings about possible attacks on executives of tea gardens along the Assam-Nagaland border rang true elsewhere, with militants suspected to be from the Dima Halam Daoga (DHD) killing a factory guard and injuring two in a pre-dawn raid on Pathemara tea estate in Cachar district.
A few hours after the incident in Cachar, security forces rescued Phanidhar Rajak, the abducted manager of Lakhimijan tea estate in Jorhat district, from nearby Nagaland.
Police officials in Silchar, the headquarters of Cachar district, said a 15-member group of militants entered Pathemara tea estate before dawn and opened fire on the security personnel guarding the factory. One of the guards was killed on the spot, while two were injured in the firing. However, the militants could not enter the factory.
The slain factory guard has been identified as Motiuddin. The two injured — police home guards Alok Nath and Nanda Kishore Barman — are undergoing treatment at the Silchar Medical College and Hospital.
The army has detained two Dimasa tribal youths, both peons assigned to one of the garden officials, for interrogation, sources said.
The 646-acre Pathemara tea estate, barely 18 km from Silchar, had been attacked earlier by militants of the DHD and the NSCN(I-M). Three years ago, Rajat Banerjee, an assistant manager of the garden, had been abducted by Naga militants and taken on foot to the North Cachar Hills. He was killed in an encounter between his captors and security forces.
However, Rajak was luckier than Banerjee. A team of army and CRPF personnel today rescued him from Wokha district, which was in the news recently for clashes between the NSCN (I-M) and the Khaplang group.
Official sources said two Ulfa rebels were arrested during the rescue operation. The duo, identified as Promod Gogoi and Babul Gogoi, hails from Mariani in Jorhat district. The police had suspected Naga militants of abducting Rajak till the arrest of the two Ulfa rebels.
Assam has a 350-km-long border with Nagaland. There are nearly 100 tea gardens, small and big, along the border. Lakhimijan, from where Rajak had been abducted, is a 90-bigha estate in the foothills of Nagaland. The abductors had demanded Rs 1 crore from the owner of the garden.
The Ulfa is believed to be planning to kill or abduct more executives of tea gardens along the Assam-Nagaland border. Security forces got a whiff of the Ulfa’s strategy when they “intercepted” a letter from Prabal Neog, the chief of the outfit’s 28th battalion, to his bosses.
Neog took charge of the battalion after the death of Tapan Baruah in an encounter a few months ago. Sources said Neog had written to the Ulfa leadership that tea companies would accede to their demands for money only if a few of their executives were eliminated.