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Oil alert seals state borders

Guwahati, Jan. 14: Assam today decided to seal its borders with Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland after security agencies warned that Ulfa hitmen operating from bases in the two neighbouring states were planning to attack oil installations in the run-up to Republic Day.

The Ulfa last week blew up a pipeline of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) in Sivasagar district. One intelligence report said Ulfa top gun Paresh Barua had asked a unit of the banned militant group to carry out such strikes to avenge the flushout operation in Bhutan.

Quoting from the report, a senior police official said Barua, who is the Ulfa commander-in-chief, had even specified the timings for the revenge strikes — between 5pm and 6 am. He said the Ulfa chief had asked the 28th battalion to specifically target installations of the Oil India Ltd and the ONGC.

Security forces acknowledge the Ulfa’s 28th battalion as one of the more lethal units of the militant group. It is known to operate from both Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, constantly shifting hideouts to avoid detection.

A senior home department official said the superintendents of police of the Upper Assam districts of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Lakhimpur had been asked to take steps to seal the borders with Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.

The official said Arunachal Pradesh could have stopped the proliferation of militant camps in its territory had it agreed to the proposal for a joint crackdown with Assam on Ulfa camps. He accused Delhi of compounding the situation, saying it did not back the erstwhile Mukut Mithi government’s offensive against Naga militants in Tirap district.

The Mithi government went ahead with the crackdown, codenamed Operation Hurricane, despite Delhi refusing to deploy additional forces. The offensive was called off after Gegong Apang toppled the Congress ministry.

The home department official said the Ulfa had set up camps in the jungles of Nagaland’s Mon district, a stronghold of the NSCN (Khaplang), by taking advantage of the ceasefire in that state. He said the militants holed up in these camps were most likely to strike in Assam.

“The rebels may attack more oil installations as it does not require much manpower or effort. A mortar or a rocket-propelled grenade fired from a distance is enough to cause damage.”

The attack on the ONGC pipeline in Sivasagar was the second show of aggression by Ulfa militants in Upper Assam since the Royal Bhutan Army’s offensive against the outfit. Ulfa militants shot dead a businessman at Ghograpar, near Rajoi tea estate, in Jorhat district on January 7.

“The Ulfa is desperate to prove that its striking capabilities are intact even after the setbacks in Bhutan. The Sivasagar incident is a pointer to the fact that the rebels will go to any extent to prove their might,” a police official said.

The police suspect the Ulfa’s involvement in the derailment of a goods train at Amguri in Sivasagar district last night.

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