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Shield for Lever staff

Oct. 7: A day after Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL) said it had received an Ulfa extortion note demanding Rs 2 crore, the Assam government provided bodyguards to nine executives of the company and deployed two platoons of the India Reserve Battalion in its 15 gardens in the state.

Police cautioned Lever executives based in Assam against staying in office after 4 pm or moving about after sunset.

Though the company has yet to file an FIR, the police said they were in touch with the company. The officer-in-charge of Doom Dooma police station, Prema Borgohain, said: “We are acting on the basis of verbal communication over phone with company officials.”

Home commissioner B.K. Gohain said in Guwahati that nine Lever executives had been provided with two personal security officers each in view of the threat from militants.

The company today issued a brief official statement, saying it had received an extortion note for Rs 2 crore and underlining its policy of not bowing to such demands. “The company, which is part of Unilever, operates in more than 50 countries, and as part of its global policy, does not make any such payments. The company has reported the matter to the government of Assam and the Union government, who have taken all measures to ensure the security of our people and continuity of our operations in the Assam tea plantations as well as in our factories,” it said.

Acting chief minister Bhumidhar Barman said the government would do everything possible to ensure that Lever executives do not come to any harm. “We are taking all steps to protect the lives and property of the company officials. There is no need for the company to panic,” he added.

A police official based in Tinsukia said the two platoons of the India Reserve Battalion that had been pressed into service were stationed in camps at Samdung and Besakoppie tea estates, both owned by HLL.

The 15 HLL gardens operate under two subsidiaries, Doom Dooma India Ltd and Rossel Industries. These gardens are spread across Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts.

The company had its first brush with militants nearly 13 years ago. On November 8, 1990, the company airlifted 10 executives and their families. It chartered a plane from Calcutta, which took off from the Doom Dooma Aviation Research Centre airfield at Sookerating. The evacuation was done under the cover of darkness and in the presence of over 300 personnel from the Dinjan camp of the army’s 2 Mountain Division.

An army official in Dinjan today said they would intensify counter-insurgency operations in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh.

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