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Hill rebels gun down rural GNLF leader

Kalimpong, Oct. 25: Nearly two months after announcing the launch of an armed struggle for the separate state of Gorkhaland, the nascent United Gorkha Revolutionary Army (UGRA) drew first blood last night, killing GNLF activist Yonsingh Lepcha at Lower Santuk, about 20 km from here.

Condemning the murder, the GNLF has called a 24-hour bandh in the subdivision tomorrow to protest against the incident.

The murder took place almost at the stroke of midnight when UGRA militants descended on the house of Lepcha, a member of the local panchayat, and forced him to open the door of the room where he was sleeping. Three militants then entered and shot him point blank.

“An improvised weapon was used in the attack,” said Rajesh Subarna, superintendent of police, Darjeeling.

According to Subarna, the chief of the UGRA, Ajay Dahal, is understood to have taken part in the attack, and was one of the three who had entered Lepcha’s room.

Rajen Sharma, a friend of Lepcha, was also sleeping in the same room, but on the other side of a partition, further from the door. “I was fast asleep when I was woken up by a loud bang, which I initially thought to have been caused by a firecracker. However, when I headed towards the door, I saw him (Lepcha) lying dead,” said Sharma.

Lepcha’s wife and brother-in-law Janak Rai were sleeping in adjoining rooms. They had jumped out from the windows of their rooms, which had been locked from outside by the militants. “My mama (uncle) picked up a banana trunk and tried to go after the assailants, but had to make a hasty retreat after they made menacing moves towards him,” said Suman, the eldest son of the Lepchas.

The militants, whose exact number is not known, then fled towards the nearby stream before, probably, disappearing into the jungles. The incident comes days after a police camp in the area was removed.

In fact, immediately after the UGRA announced the launch of its armed struggle in early September, the district police had launched a joint operation with the CRPF against the militants in the Lava-Algarah-Gorubathan belt.

“The operation was not called off as such, but forces had to be deployed elsewhere for duty during the Puja and Diwali festivities,” said Subarna. Senior GNLF leaders of the subdivision met the district police chief this evening and demanded to know why the police camp was removed from Lower Santuk.

“We have given the police time till November 15 to arrest the killers, failing which we may have to take matters into our own hands. Yonsingh was an innocent man and did not deserve to die in this way,” said Dawa Pakhrin, the Kalimpong unit president of the GNLF.

Local MLA Gaulan Lepcha was also present at the meeting. “We cannot let the situation go out of control,” he said.

Though the police did not confirm it, villagers said Lepcha had been served a warning by the UGRA on October 14. The organisation had apparently asked the panchayat member to stop providing information to the police on the activities of the organisation.

In September, the United Gorkha Revolutionary Front (UGRF) had claimed that its armed wing — the UGRA — has been running nine training camps in the subdivision.

The UGRF had made the “disclosure” in a release issued to a vernacular daily. While it had not been possible to establish the veracity of the UGRF claim, reports had suggested the existence of at least one or two camps in the remote village of Suruk, 15 km from here. Those reports were vindicated, partly, when prior to the joint police-CRPF raid, four persons were arrested on charges of harbouring UGRA members.

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