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Camps lost, rebels pick up bandh weapon

Dec. 19: As reports came in of all 30 insurgent camps being dismantled by the Royal Bhutan Army, the three northeastern militant outfits together called a 48-hour bandh in Assam and north Bengal from 5 am tomorrow.

Within five days of the start of the crackdown, Bhutan officials suggested that the rebel infrastructure on Bhutanese soil had been demolished.

Bhutan’s director at the ministry of foreign affairs Yeshe Dorjee said: “All the camps are dislodged, flushing-out operations are going on.”

Stunned by the reverses, the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) threatened that the bandh they have called will continue “indefinitely” if the bodies of their members killed in the operation are not handed over to their families within 24 hours.

In Bengal, only Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts might be affected by the bandh.

The bandh call came within hours of the Ulfa suffering another blow with the capture of its top military strategist “Major” Bening Rabha, who was in charge of the camps in Bhutan.

So far, the Ulfa has lost four of its top leaders — Rabha, founder-member and seniormost leader Bhimkanta Buragohain, publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary and “Major” Rabin Neog, among the first to join the outfit.

Buragohain died after his surrender and the Ulfa has accused the Bhutan army of violating norms of the Geneva Convention by “killing a prisoner of war”. The others have either been captured or have surrendered.

“The royal government of Bhutan not only launched the offensive against the Ulfa, NDFB and KLO without any clear ultimatum but is also brutally killing its cadre, particularly octogenarians, women, children and the injured,” the three groups said in a joint statement.

They described Buragohain’s “killing” as “tantamount to gross violation of the Geneva Convention as well as all civilised norms of modern war”.

In an appeal, Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa requested the Bhutan government to treat the “prisoners of war” according to the norms of the Geneva Convention.

Although the outfits have been claiming death of children and women in the operations, Dorjee refused to give any death count. “The operations are continuing. We are not in a position to say anything about the casualties,” Dorjee said in the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar.

There were reports that crown prince Jigyel Wangchuk visited the area of crackdown today to make an assessment.

The International Committee of Red Cross revealed that it has begun talks with the Bhutan government for permission to offer humanitarian assistance to victims of the operation.

In Delhi, the cabinet committee on security took stock of the operation. External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said India has thanked Bhutan for the offensive. Sinha said Indian troops were not headed for Bhutan immediately.

“No request has been made and I do not think that situation has arisen so far,” Sinha said.

Eros Bosisio, a spokesman, said a dialogue has been initiated with the Bhutan government to offer medical aid.

He, however, made it clear that the Red Cross move was independent of Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua’s appeal through the media to the humanitarian group for help.

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