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Rebels abduct customs officials

Shillong, April 26: Militants from a fledgling group kidnapped two customs officers from near Dalu, in West Garo Hills district of Meghalaya, early today.

The officials, superintendent of customs Dhoroni Bora and inspector Mrinal Sharma, were on their way to Dalu from Gasuapara in the South Garo Hills when the incident occurred. Both are posted at the customs office in Gasuapara, a key point on the Indo-Bangladesh coal export route.

The kidnapping occurred around 5.30 am.

Though no outfit claimed responsibility for the kidnapping until late tonight, the police said they were almost certain that the United Achik National Liberation Front, a lesser-known Garo outfit headed by Nimos Marak, was behind the incident. The motive for the kidnapping is believed to be ransom.

Director-general of police W. R. Marbaniang confirmed the incident and said the police had launched a search for the hostages. “Our men are on the job,” the DGP said.

Marbaniang said the motive behind the kidnapping was obviously money. He said the United Achik National Liberation Front was trying to create a base in the Garo hills and needed money to strengthen itself with sophisticated weapons.

Customs commissioner R.W. Negi was unavailable for comment.

Gasuapara, a transit point for export of coal from Meghalaya to Bangladesh, had witnessed a series of kidnappings in March and April 2003. As many as seven persons, including customs inspector Deepak Mahanta, had been abducted by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) from near the land customs stations in Gasuapara. One of them was killed, but the rest were freed.

A few days later, the NDFB and the members of the proscribed Achik National Volunteers Council abducted Jatindra Bhattacharjee, executive engineer in the public works department (PWD), and Pobitra K. Hajong, deputy inspector of schools of Baghmara.

Three Meghalaya foresters were arrested in Bangladesh for trespassing in December last year. They returned home after Dhaka released them “unconditionally” in January, much to the relief of their families and the D.D. Lapang government.

Moses Diengdoh, Woldis Swer and Ram Pohlong were bracing for the prospect of a long jail sentence when the Bangladesh authorities charged them with illegal entry with weapons and insinuated that they were militants. Their ordeal ended when Bangladesh officials handed them over to the Border Security Force (BSF) in the presence of forest officials at the Dawki border outpost.

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