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Tricolour-draped body tells tale

Dec. 18: A body wrapped in the Tricolour was brought to a helipad in Assam close to the Bhutan border in possible evidence of the Indian Army’s involvement in the operation launched in Bhutan against northeastern insurgents.

The body was flown out to an undisclosed location an hour after it arrived at the 11 Garhwal Regiment helipad at Darranga in Nalbari district this morning, but army authorities were silent on the identity of the dead — a Bhutanese would obviously not be wrapped in the Indian flag — and the cause and place of death.

Witnesses said several army officials in uniform were present at the helipad when the body was brought.

In Calcutta, the chief of the Eastern Command, Lt Gen. J.S. Verma, however, said: “No casualties have been reported yet.” It was not clear if he was aware of the body having arrived when he made the comment.

“The Indian Army is manning the border and will continue doing so till the area gains normality,” he said, denying reports of soldiers having gone inside Bhutan.

Yesterday, a leader of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), Mithinga Daimary, and five other militants were flown in from Bhutan to the same helipad.

A founder-member of the Ulfa, accompanied by a 100 injured militants and family members, surrendered to the Bhutan army today amid reports of heavy casualties. Bhimkanta Buragohain, said to be in his eighties and reportedly injured on the first day of the operation, died after the surrender.

A Bhutan official camping in the kingdom’s southern district of Samdrup Jongkhar, where the surrender took place, said on phone: “Led by Bhimkanta Buragohain, over 40 women members, accompanied by 25 children and some 40 non-combatants, including injured militants, walked up carrying white flags.”

Bhutanese officials, who have interrogated those that have given themselves up, believe the surrender is aimed at giving the Ulfa’s fighting members time to flee deeper into the jungles and regroup.

Verma said: “It is estimated that about 90 to 120 militants were killed during the ambush in the past few days by the Bhutanese army.”

The Bhutan army, too, has taken casualties. Yesterday, Indian Air Force helicopters flew six sorties to Calcutta, presumably ferrying casualties to the command hospital.

Verma confirmed that six militants had been handed over to the Indian Army yesterday, but suggested that Tom Adhikary, a leader of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation active in Bengal, was not among them. He said Paresh Barua, the self-styled commander-in-chief of the Ulfa, and Adhikary might have fled to Bangladesh.

Barua’s appeal has led the Red Cross to contact Bhutan to seek permission to visit the areas. Eros Bosisio, a spokesperson, said: “We have proposed our humanitarian services. We want to send a representative to southern Bhutan to assess the situation. The dialogue with the royal government is ongoing.”

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