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Jumbos corner rebels
- Herd destroys hideouts on sandbanks

Jorhat, Nov. 21: In Hindi films, the police invariably arrive well after the hero has vanquished the villain. Now, a herd of wild elephants has done what the police had only been thinking of doing: evict Ulfa militants from their makeshift camps on the sandbanks dotting the Brahmaputra in Assam.

Police officials in Jorhat district, one of the strongholds of the outlawed Ulfa, today confirmed that elephants had destroyed several makeshift camps of the militant group on the chaporis — Assamese for sandbank — off Neamati. “We had information about the rebels setting up camps on these small islands and were planning to take action. But the elephants did the job for us,” a senior police officer said.

Ranjit Das, a boat operator who was arrested yesterday from the heritage island of Majuli for helping Ulfa militants cross the river, told the police that elephants had been roaming the chaporis over the past two weeks and destroying everything in their path. He said the marauding herds had not only demolished Ulfa camps but also forced the militants to change their travel plans.

“Militants prefer to cross the river by night but no boatman wants to take the risk now for fear of running into wild elephants on the sandbanks,” he was quoted as saying.

Assistant conservator of forests Gunin Saikia said the 100-strong herd was first spotted off Neamati a couple of weeks ago. “The elephants may have strayed from the Dibru-Saikhowa forest or the wildlife habitats on the Dhemaji side of the north bank. The herd has since been moving from one chapori to another.”

Police personnel in plainclothes surveyed the sandbanks today and found remnants of several Ulfa camps. “The signs of destruction by elephants are unmistakable. Our team also found abandoned shelters, which means that the militants have fled for fear of being attacked by elephants. They cannot fire at the herd because that would draw attention,” a member of the team said.

Sandbanks appear on the Brahmaputra when it recedes in winter, enabling militants to set up camps that can be detected easily but are difficult to raid. “Raiding these hideouts is a difficult task. Security forces cannot mount surprise attacks because there is no place to hide. Everything is visible for miles. By the time we reach a camp, the militants are gone,” the police officer said.

Kidnapped social worker Sanjoy Ghose, who had started an anti-erosion project in Majuli, is believed to have been killed on one such chapori in 1997.

A militant who was arrested from a village on the bank of the Brahmaputra in Jorhat district told interrogators that Ulfa members taking shelter on the sandbanks move from one hideout to another in hired boats at night.

Elephants have been troubling militants even in the mainland. An elephant was gunned down by militants near Champang Basti in Mokokchung district of neighbouring Nagaland a few days ago after a herd destroyed several huts in the area. A joint team of militants from Assam and Nagaland had been hiding in those huts.

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