| Soldiers patrol the India-Bhutan border at Darrang near Guwahati. (AFP)
Guwahati, Dec. 20: The first cracks appeared in the beleaguered Ulfa today, with seven hardcore rebels surrendering with arms to the Assam police.
The militants fled their camp in Bhutan, which was later demolished, and accused the outfit’s leadership of “not warning” them about the Royal Bhutan Army offensive.
The day also saw six Ulfa rebels, including “publicity secretary” Mithinga Daimary, being handed over to police by the army following a directive from Gauhati High Court.
A report from Jalpaiguri adds that the army handed over abducted businessman from Cooch Behar Gopal Debnath and five top members of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) to the district police.
The KLO militants handed over include Milton Burman alias Mihir Das, the second-in-command of the outfit, Tom Adhikary alias Joydev Roy, the chief of its action squad, Sanjoy Adhikary, Pabitra Singha alias Prakash Singha and Bhim Dakua alias Jayanta Das.
In the case of the Ulfa, the army virtually had no option but to hand over the six rebels to Tamulpur police this evening with the Bhutan government making it clear today that “all the captured and surrendered rebels are being immediately handed over to the Indian army authorities”.
“We have no use for them as the aim of the operations is to flush out all the rebels from our territory,” Thinley Penzor, the counsellor at the Bhutan embassy in New Delhi said.
“We have been handing them over immediately.” Nalbari deputy commissioner K.C. Samaria confirmed tonight that “the process of handing over the six rebels is under way,” Penzor told The Telegraph
Sources in the district administration clarified: “Take it (the handover) as done. But the process of formalities for the handover is a lengthy one.”
Daimary — alias Deepak Das — was captured by Bhutanese soldiers on Tuesday, a day after “Operation All-Clear” was launched to flush out the Ulfa, the NDFB and the KLO rebels from the Himalayan kingdom.
However, more damaging for the Ulfa was the surrender of the seven rebels — including a self-styled “lieutenant” and two “sergeants” — who gave themselves up to Darrang superintendent of police Izaz Hazarika. They also laid down at least four AK-56 rifles, 11 magazines and 335 rounds of ammunition.
The rebels, based in one of several Ulfa camps in Kawoipani, claimed to have fled immediately after the operations started.
Hazarika quoted the surrendered rebels as saying that they were kept in the dark by their leadership about the impending offensive by the RBA. “They fled soon after the surprise attack by the RBA started on Monday morning and entered Darrang after trekking for five days without food and water,” Hazarika said.
The surrender of the seven rebels and their allegation against the militant leadership will provide fresh fodder to security forces, which have claimed that the top leadership fled to Bangladesh leaving the lower-ranked cadre to fend for themselves.
Official sources said the formalities are under way for the handing over the body of seniormost Ulfa leader Bhimkanta Buragohain, who died in custody of the RBA after his surrender, to Assam police. The beleaguered outfit’s woes continued with another of its top leaders, “Capt” Biju Deka, surrendering to the RBA today.
Sources said Deka — who also operated under the aliases of Niloy Baishya and Rupam Bhuyan — surrendered this morning along with 24 of his colleagues.
Before Deka’s surrender, the Ulfa had four in the rank of “captain”, including “deputy commander-in-chief” Raju Baruah.
More setbacks were in store for the Ulfa when four of its activists were shot dead by security forces in two separate incidents in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
Troops of the 2 Mountain division smashed a joint camp of the Ulfa and the Arunachal Dragon Force in Namsai in Lohit district and shot dead three militants, two of whom were from the Ulfa.
The chief of the Arunachal outfit — identified as Jgant Saunday Minnamchung — was also arrested during the operations and a huge cache of arms and ammunition recovered, army sources said from Dinjan in Tinsukia district.
The joint 48-hour bandh call by the Ulfa, the NDFB and the KLO failed to evoke much response in the state though business establishments remained closed.
In the capital, vehicles plied normally and people moved about freely, police said.
The outfits have threatened to continue the bandh “indefinitely” if the bodies of their activists killed by the Royal Bhutan Army are not handed over to their families within 24 hours.
The Ulfa, however, found an ally in the NSCN (I-M), which called for a 24-hour bandh in “Nagalim” — all Naga-inhabited areas in the Northeast from 6 am tomorrow against what it called a “brutal and cruel” military operation by the RBA.
Jolted by the string of reverses and the Bhutan government’s virtual rejection of a ceasefire plea by the Ulfa, several militant outfits of the region are planning to serve “quit notices” to Bhutanese nationals settled in the Northeast or those who come here for business purposes.
Intelligence sources claimed a resolution was passed at a meeting between Ulfa “commander-in-chief” Paresh Barua with the leaders of nine other rebel groups in Dhaka.
The Assam government today also requested the Centre to urge Bhutan to hand over “non-combatant women and children” holed up in the Himalayan kingdom. This was announced by chief minister Tarun Gogoi on the floor of the Assembly.