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Heart attack kills hostage

Nagaon/Guwahati, July 16: A senior Cement Corporation of India (CCI) official died of cardiac arrest a few hours after militants took him and 10 others hostage in Karbi Anglong district of Assam.

K.N. Jha, senior mining manager at the cement plant in Bokajan, is the second PSU official to die in captivity in less than a week. Food Corporation of India executive director P.C. Ram fell to police bullets on Wednesday during a gunfight between his Ulfa captors and the team that was trying to rescue him.

Karbi Anglong police said between 15 to 20 militants of the Karbi Longri North Cachar Liberation Front reached the CCI colony at Dilai, 24 km from Bokajan, around 7.45pm yesterday and started searching the quarters for potential hostages.

Apart from Jha and CCI mining foreman Janardhan Bhagat, the militants rounded up four police personnel — Madan Borah, Martin Basumatary, Dhrubajyoti Brahma, Dilip Basumatary — and five employees of two private construction firms.

After forcing the hostages to walk for a couple of kilometres through rough terrain, the militants stopped a truck and herded all of them into the vehicle. They had travelled barely another 2km towards Dillai Parbat, a limestone-rich hill, when the truck fell into a roadside pond.

The militants abandoned the vehicle immediately and resumed the foot march, taking with them the driver and the handyman. Jha collapsed shortly after, prompting the abductors to set the rest of the group free except their last two hostages, truck driver Rupsing Teron and handyman Muksang Ranghang.

One of the freed hostages told the police that Jha, who hailed from Darbhanga in Bihar, had pleaded with his captors to shoot him just before the heart attack. “Mujhe goli mar do.... ab aage badhne ki shakti nahin hain (shoot me...I do not have the strength to walk farther),” he said.

Jha is believed to have died half-an-hour past midnight.

The Karbi militant group, which is active in Karbi Anglong and the adjoining North Cachar Hills, had issued extortion notes to the CCI and the mass abductions were probably triggered by the company’s refusal to pay up.

In Guwahati, chief minister Tarun Gogoi said security in all PSUs had been beefed up and security advisories issued to senior officials. The don’ts in the list include not venturing out at night.

On Ram’s killing, Gogoi said a CBI inquiry would set to rest “baseless and malicious” allegations about the police deliberately killing him.

He said Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and Ram’s family had urged him to accede to Ulfa’s demand to release two of its leaders — Mrinal Hazarika and Pallab Saikia — in exchange for Ram. But he said the government would never agree to such a trade-off.

Taking suo moto cognisance of Ram’s death, the Assam Human Rights Commission asked director-general of police R.N. Mathur to institute a probe by a police official not below the rank of an SP and submit a report along with relevant documents by September 10.

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