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Rebel gets life for Neog ambush

Guwahati, Oct. 12: An 11-year wait for justice ended for the families of slain Assam minister Nagen Neog and eight other victims in an Ulfa ambush when a sessions court today sentenced the militant who led the attack to life imprisonment.

Sessions judge Tarun Phukan declared two other accused as absconders.

In the absence of any witness to the ambush on Neog’s convoy at Singijan Bridge under Golaghat police station on May 6, 1996 the court pronounced the judgment on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Those convicted are the then Golaghat “district commander” of the outfit, “sergeant-major” Arup Konwar alias Tutu alias Amar Singh, and his associates Ananta Saikia and Pranjal Saikia.

The incident occurred just two days after the 1996 Assembly elections. Neog, 46, contested the Golaghat seat as a Congress candidate. Apart from Neog, his driver and police escorts died in the ambush.

His wife Ajanta Neog, social welfare minister in the Tarun Gogoi government, said the judgment was a welcome development after her “lonely crusade” for over a decade. She declined further comment .

The judgment brought the curtain down on five years of legal processes — statements of 14 people were recorded —after the CBI submitted chargesheets against the accused on October 24, 2002.

The police initially suspected that Ulfa carried out the ambush in collusion with Naga militants.

The CBI chargesheets did not name any Naga group.

The case was handed to the investigative agency on March 26, 1999, in response to a PIL filed by Tukeswar Neog, the slain minister’s brother.

Arup, arrested in 2005 for his involvement in another case, is at Guwahati Central Jail and the only accused in the case to have been jailed.

The defence counsel, J.M. Choudhury, said he would appeal against the judgment in a higher court, if his client so desired.

The CBI counsel, Dilip Kumar Das, said that three days before the ambush, Arup forewarned retired schoolteacher Uma Konwar to withdraw his policeman son-in-law Rajani Phukan from the minister’s team of escorts.

On the morning the incident occurred, the schoolteacher personally requested Neog to give his son leave by citing his daughter’s illness.

“Uma Konwar’s statement, recalling his discussion with Arup Konwar, was one of the circumstantial evidences against the accused,” the CBI counsel said.

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