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US help gives Delhi headache

New Delhi, Oct. 5: US ambassador to India David Mulford has written directly to the Nagaland and Assam chief ministers offering them FBI help to smoke out the culprits behind the weekend blasts.

A similar offer has been made to the Centre in a separate letter to the foreign ministry, but Delhi has not taken the gesture well. There are rumblings that Mulford strayed beyond his brief, not in writing to the states but in offering FBI help as this could be seen as meddling in India's internal affairs.

A red-faced Delhi, slighted by the procedural aberration, issued a statement this evening but took care not to make any reference to the letters written to Nagaland and Assam chief ministers, Neiphiu Rio and Tarun Gogoi.

'The US ambassador in India has made an offer of FBI assistance for investigation of the recent bomb blast that has taken place in Assam and Nagaland, in terms of the ongoing cooperation between our two countries on counter-terrorism.

'The offer will be considered in terms of the existing guidelines of the government of India,' the statement said.

US embassy officials confirmed that Mulford had written to the states yesterday, condemning the blasts and expressing sympathy for victims' families. But the letter also said that 'if requested', the US was ready to offer the FBI's services to hunt down the 'perpetrators'.

South Block officials said it was not unusual for an ambassador to write directly to a chief minister and such letters had been written in the past. But those were to fix up a visit to the state and such like, not to offer FBI help, which could be done only through the foreign ministry.

What could have possibly ruffled the Centre's feathers is the reaction from its Left partners to the offer for FBI help. The dust they raised over the foreign consultants in the Planning Commission advisory bodies has barely settled.

Expectedly, the Left came clear with what they thought. 'No external agency should be allowed to interfere in our internal affairs,' CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said.

Howls of protest were heard from Assam Opposition parties, too, which suspected America's 'nefarious plans' to meddle in India's affairs.

There could also be apprehension in government circles on how the NDA will react. Given that the Congress often jabbed the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime for its 'pro-US tilt', Opposition parties could make a noise if Delhi does not talk really tough.

Assam massacre

Ten people were gunned down in Kokrajhar district of Assam, taking the toll in the state since Saturday to 42. Preliminary reports said masked NDFB rebels swooped on the village market in Jalabila around 7 pm and opened indiscriminate fire.

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