Guwahati, March 17: Assam police today contradicted the army’s claims about the outlawed Ulfa being a spent force after the battering in Bhutan last year, saying the militant group was still strong enough to strike in a big way.
Inspector-general of police (special branch) Khagen Sharma said after a surrender ceremony that the Ulfa’s bases in Bangladesh and Myanmar were intact. “We cannot rule out the possibility of the militants striking in a big way out of frustration and desperation to assert their existence.”
Apart from a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen activist, three members of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and one from the Ulfa laid down arms.
The army has been saying that the Ulfa cannot possibly recover from the blows it sustained during the Royal Bhutan Army’s offensive against rebel groups of the Northeast. Army chief Gen. .C. Vij declared last month that all camps of the Ulfa would be wiped out “within two months”.
Counter-insurgency operations in Assam are planned and executed jointly by the army, the paramilitary forces and the police under a three-tier structure called the Unified Command.
Though Sharma was circumspect about the Ulfa, he corroborated reports about the NDFB’s inability to strike at will in Assam after losing its strategic bases in Bhutan.
The Ulfa’s advantage, intelligence reports say, is support within Bangladesh. A large section of members of the group’s armed wing is believed to be in that country. The majority of the Ulfa members who were either caught or surrendered during the operation in Bhutan belonged to the political wing of the group. “Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua’s trusted men are still at large in Bangladesh and Myanmar,” a source said.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has been insisting that Delhi pressure Bangladesh and Myanmar to start “Bhutan-type operations” against the Ulfa and the NDFB.
The inspector-general of police said 554 militants had surrendered — 218 from the Ulfa and 335 from the NDFB — since Bhutan began its offensive against them. According to official statistics, 6,912 militants, including 3,098 from the Ulfa and 728 from the NDFB, have laid down arms since 1998.
One of the Ulfa rebels who surrendered today, Kamal Boro alias Deben Khakhlary, said he was part of a 30-member group that ferried arms and ammunition to Bhutan from Bangladesh via Goalpara in Assam and the Garo hills of Meghalaya. “I visited Bangladesh several times and stayed at the camps there,” he said.
Moinul Haq Choudhury alias Saifullah of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen said he trained at Batrachi in Pakistan and also completed a 45-day “jungle warfare course” on hilly terrain along with three Pakistanis in 1998.
After completion of training, he went to Dhaka by air and then returned to his house in Barpeta. He again visited Dhaka and smuggled in a huge quantity of RDX.
The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen activist said the alleged atrocities on Muslims living in Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Barpeta during the Bodoland movement had changed him. “I did not get selected in the army. Joining the outfit was the last resort for me,” he said.
NDFB finance secretary Nileswar Basumatary, who completed his graduation from Tangla College, said he joined the Boro Security Force in January 1998. The outfit was disbanded later and the NDFB was formed. He underwent guerrilla training in Bhutan under NSCN (I-M) instructors.
Basumatary, entrusted with the responsibility of collecting funds and preparing the budget of the outfit, said the NDFB was facing a severe financial crisis and most of its camps were short of food and medicines.
“A general council meeting of the NDFB in 2000 constituted a three-member group to start the process of dialogue with the government of India. However, the whole process got derailed with the arrest of top leaders and, as a result, the cadres became disillusioned,” he said.