Guwahati, Sept. 27: Mounting pressure today forced the army to call off its assault on Ulfa militants in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, but the announcement came with a victory cry and a clarification that troops would remain there to stop a fresh incursion.
The end of Operation Balwan capped a day of multiple developments, including Gauhati High Court’s directive to Dispur to ensure that residents of areas in the vicinity of the park were not inconvenienced by the flushout operation.
The army, which started feeling the heat after Ulfa constituted a People’s Consultative Group to do the spadework for its proposed talks with Delhi, insisted that the operation had been called off only because no militants were left in Dibru-Saikhowa.
Officially, five Ulfa militants were killed in the operation. “The operation was called off at 4 pm because the area has been cleaned up,” a senior army officer, Col Ajay Kumar Pandey, said.
He claimed that the purpose of Operation Balwan had been achieved, but the army would maintain its presence in the area to make sure that militants did not enter the park again. “They were carrying out their operations from the forest, but it is over now.”
Col Pandey had briefed governor Lt. Gen (retd) Ajai Singh and chief secretary S. Kabilan on the operation earlier in the day. “It was routine,” he said.
The chief secretary heads the decision-making caucus of the Unified Command, a three-tier counter-insurgency structure comprising the army, police and paramilitary forces.
Sources said the army’s decision to call off the operation was hastened by chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s appeals to Delhi and the Congress high command.
“Yes, there was pressure from the state government but not directly on us. It was at the ministry level. We came to know that the chief minister had requested the UPA government and the Congress leadership to convince the ministry of defence to call off the operation,” said a senior officer of the army’s 4 Corps, headquartered in Tezpur.
Several organisations, mainly the People’s Consultative Group, had been pressuring Dispur to act fast to “create a conducive atmosphere for the peace process”.
The People’s Committee for Peace Initiative, a conglomerate of 21 organisations, announced a 12-hour statewide bandh on Thursday against the army operation and “police highhandedness” during a “democratic protest” in Guwahati.
Dilip Patgiri, a member of both the new committee and Ulfa’s team of mediators, accused the police of preventing a demonstration.
Earlier in the day, the AGP moved the National Human Rights Commission to put an end to the “warlike situation” in Dibru-Saikhowa.