Jalpaiguri, Dec. 23: If Bhutan was their sanctuary, Bangladesh was the armoury — in a manner of speaking.
Indian intelligence has been saying that arms for insurgents in India’s Northeast have been coming in through Bangladesh, but the recent crackdown by Bhutan on rebel camps has again brought into focus the role of transit and landing points on the smuggling route on the soil of the eastern neighbour.
Dhaka has denied these charges. But, after Bhutan responded to persistent Indian requests to act against the northeastern militants, the pressure on Bangladesh could go up with Delhi using the information collected over years through arrests and arms seizures.
Officials have been able to establish the route commonly used by the militants to bring arms into their camps in Bhutan from Bangladesh, where Cox’s Bazar in Chittagong district is the fountainhead.
The route, from Kalikhola in Bhutan to Cox’s Bazar, passes through north Bengal, Assam and Meghalaya and into Chittagong.
“Crossing the hilly terrain of Bhutan through the forest of Buxa Tiger reserve, the banks of the Sankosh river, they move to Cooch Behar (Bengal), from where they enter Assam by boarding a night bus. From Assam, they move to Tura (Meghalaya), and then to Cox’s Bazar,” sources said. (See map on Page 6)
The return route is different, but only marginally so with the point of entry into India from Chittagong being Mancachar in Assam.
The sources said, according to information available with them, the last consignment brought from Bangladesh by the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) included rocket-propelled grenades and rocket launchers. The quantity of the consignment is not known.
Police in Jalpaiguri also have information that in 2001, the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), active in areas of north Bengal, used the same route to bring a consignment of AK series rifles. It’s not militants alone that take part in the smuggling.
Takura Das, arrested last year, headed a group that acted as couriers in the smuggling operation.
A senior police officer said: “Das admitted under interrogation that he used to carry the boxes, loaded with AK series rifles and bullets from Bangladesh and enter Bhutan.”
A militant, Amarendra Daimari (alias Ethnic), who the police said belonged to the National Democratic Front of Boroland and was arrested a year ago, had revealed the return route. He had said this route was being used since 1996.
A sum of Rs 10 lakh was recovered from him as he was on way to Bangladesh, allegedly to purchase arms.
Ananta Nath (alias Hongkong), arrested in Assam and later handed over to Jalpaiguri police on August 8, 2000, gave similar information.
Prices of weapons vary depending on the risks and mode of delivery. For instance, an AK-47 would cost between Rs 55,000 and Rs 100,000 and a pistol Rs 40,000-80,000. Rocket-propelled weapons command Rs 5-6 lakh or more.
“The modus operandi is simple: hired Bangladeshi trawlers would reach the high seas to receive delivery of arms and ammunition from ships and unload them in the Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar ports where they are received by the front organisations or sometimes by the rebels themselves,” said a police officer involved in counter-insurgency in Assam.
Most weapons used in the northeast are of Chinese origin.
Bhupinder Singh, the inspector-general of police, north Bengal, admitted at a news conference that the KLO used to purchase arms from Bangladesh. “We have specific inputs about them. The KLO militants used to procure arms from Bangladesh. We are yet to confirm the sources but it is sure that they had procured the same from Bangladesh,” he had said.
Police sources said top KLO leaders, Milton Burma, now under arrest, and Jeevan Singha, had been to Bangladesh, one of them as recently as four months ago, to collect weapons.