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Triple onslaught on Ulfa

Jorhat/Dibrugarh, Oct. 13: Dispur today ordered a combined offensive by the army, police and paramilitary forces against the Ulfa in Tinsukia district, where the militant outfit is regrouping after a period of hibernation.

State home minister Rockybul Hussain said the operation would cover the entire district, but focus on the border with Arunachal Pradesh.

The government is considering a proposal to launch a joint operation with Arunachal Pradesh police along the border to prevent the militants from taking shelter in that state.

An intelligence official said the combined operation may have already begun. “We have information about a group of Ulfa militants shifting from Bhutan to Tinsukia. One of them is Indrajit Malagharia, who sneaked into the district from the Himalayan kingdom recently.”

The Ulfa’s “Pub Mandal” unit — also called the “Kashmir camp” for its ferocity — lay low for a long period after the arrest of its controller, Ramu Mech. But recent intelligence reports indicate that the militant group is strengthening its 28th battalion.

The unit, one of the four operational battalions of the Ulfa, has been functioning under Prabal Neog since its commander, Tapan Baruah, was killed in an encounter with the army.

Hussain, who was on a day’s visit to the Upper Assam district, told the media that he met top army officials and the district deputy commissioner in Tinsukia town and asked them to launch the anti-Ulfa operation at the earliest. “It is not that the Ulfa has become very strong in Tinsukia district, but the outfit is definitely trying to rebuild its base,” he said.

The home minister arrived in Upper Assam to take stock of the situation following an Ulfa strike in Dighaltarang tea estate of Tinsukia district on Saturday. Five persons were killed in the incident.

Less than a week earlier, Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL), which owns 15 gardens in Tinsukia and the adjacent Dibrugarh district, disclosed that the Ulfa had served an extortion note demanding Rs 2 crore from the company.

“We are concerned about the situation in Tinsukia district and will do everything possible to restore peace,” the home minister said.

On the proposal for a joint operation with Arunachal Pradesh police, Hussain said Dispur was awaiting the green signal from the Centre. “After we get Delhi’s approval, we will take up the proposal with the Arunachal Pradesh government.”

The minister said the Ulfa demanding money from HLL was not surprising, given the fact that militant groups had long been targeting tea companies for extortion.

“However, the situation is not as it was before. The companies are feeling safer now and it is reflected in their decision to seek help from security forces whenever they are confronted by militants,” the minister said.

Hussain declined comment on defence minister George Fernandes directing the army’s eastern command to look into the HLL case without consulting the state government. “I do not want to answer this question for obvious reasons,” he said.

The minister denied that the army had fanned out only into the HLL-owned gardens.

Inspector-general of police (special branch) Khagen Sarmah and deputy inspector-general (eastern range) Akhil Kumar Nath are camping in Tinsukia to monitor the situation.

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