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George surprise after amnesty offer

Guwahati, Dec. 23: Within hours of chief minister Tarun Gogoi announcing “general amnesty” for militants who surrender before January 31, defence minister George Fernandes reached the Tezpur headquarters of the army’s Four Corps for an in-camera discussion with the operations group of the unified command.

Fernandes’ visit to the army base was officially described as a stopover en route to “inspection of the Sino-Indian border” in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh. A source said he discussed “all aspects” of Bhutan’s offensive against Northeast militants with senior army officials.

Assam director-general of police P.V. Sumant, too, was in Tezpur during the day. The police chief said he visited the town “for a different purpose”, but declined to elaborate.

Police officials here said they could neither confirm nor deny if Sumant met the defence minister or Four Corps general-officer-commanding Lt Gen. Mohinder Singh, who heads the operations group of the unified command for counter-insurgency operations in Assam.

Sources said the defence minister, who was scheduled to reach Tawang this evening, decided to stop in Tezpur because of inclement weather in Arunachal Pradesh.

Dispur’s announcement of general amnesty for militants willing to surrender before January 31 coincided with the arrival of news about the Myanmarese junta planning to flush out Northeast militants from its territory. Myanmar foreign minister U Win Aung reportedly made such a statement in New Delhi this afternoon.

“We will flush out Indian insurgents, if any, in our country,” a source quoted him as saying.

Nine more militants of the Ulfa and the NDFB surrendered to the army at the Four Corps headquarters during the day. The rebels had fled Bhutan after the launch of Operation All Clear there on December 15.

As many as 20 militants who were based in Bhutan have surrendered in Assam since the operation began. The nine rebels who laid down arms before the Four Corps GOC included six from the Ulfa’s crack Enigma hit squad. They deposited seven AK 56 rifles, a carbine and assorted ammunition.

Unconfirmed reports said National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) publicity secretary B. Irakdeo was in army custody. He was captured by Bhutanese troops after his Ulfa counterpart Mithinga Daimary, who has since been handed over to the police.

The army did not allow the media to speak to any of the militants who surrendered today. All of them were whisked away to an undisclosed location after they laid down arms.

Gen. Singh said the army killed 14 militants who tried to sneak into the state immediately after Bhutan’s offensive began.

Thinking militants might be unwilling to surrender for fear of being targeted by the army while entering Assam, the government announced a few telephone numbers for them to contact officials before crossing the border.

Gogoi, who made the offer at a news conference, promised full protection to the surrendered rebels and steps to rehabilitate them.

“They are facing action in Bhutan and I appeal to them to be positive and contact us at the designated telephone numbers when they decide to surrender,” he said.

The chief minister said his government had made arrangements for the militants to convey their willingness to surrender over phone because most of them were wary of crossing the Indo-Bhutan border because of the risk of being confronted by the army. He assured them of safety if they contacted the government and promised to surrender.

Making no bones about Dispur’s eagerness to capitalise on the Ulfa and the NDFB’s predicament in Bhutan, Gogoi said anyone willing to mediate between the government and the militant leadership was welcome.

He said the government would “facilitate his or her trip to Bhutan after consultation with the Centre”.

On whether Dispur had sought details from Delhi about the operation by the Royal Bhutan Army, the chief minister said it was not necessary given the fact that the offensive was taking place outside the country. Echoing minister of state for home Rockybul Hussain’s statement in the Assembly, he said the state government had no information about the fate of veteran Ulfa leader Bhimkanta Buragohain.

Bhutanese officials have yet to compile a list of the casualties during the operation. “We require a day or two to complete the exercise,” the Himalayan kingdom’s deputy head of mission in India, Thinley Penjor, said from New Delhi.

The envoy said the royal government had informed the Red Cross, which had offered humanitarian assistance, that its help was “not required at this moment as we have been able to handle the situation on our own”.

He claimed all women and children who had been staying in and around the militant camps were “safe in transit camps”.

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