Dibrugarh, Nov. 19: Ulfa has plucked out the ace up the army’s sleeve.
Stung by a spate of desertions, arrests and encounter killings that were thought to have left it toothless, the state’s most recalcitrant and powerful militant group hit back last night by eliminating the former member who was helping the army in its operations in Arunachal Pradesh.
Srimanta Chetia, alias Chinese, got a bullet in his head while journeying to a destination in Arunachal Pradesh. The Ulfa ambush squad also killed an accomplice of the ex-militant and the driver of the Tata Sumo they were in.
Arunachal Pradesh police found Chetia sprawled on the backseat of the vehicle with a hole in his forehead near a bridge over the Noa-Dehing at Deobil in Lohit district, just beyond Tinsukia district’s border with that state. The bodies of the other two — Prahlad Moran and driver Kamal Kundu — were found by the roadside, both shot from close range.
There was confusion over the fate of another of Chetia’s accomplices who may have been in the same vehicle when the ambush occurred.
The additional deputy commissioner of Namsai subdivision, R.K. Sarma, said after a visit to the ambush site that two acquaintances and the driver were with Chetia when he left his home near Kakopathar in Tinsukia district for Arunachal Pradesh after dusk.
“His family members informed us that there were four of them. However, they could not identify the fourth person. We are trying to confirm who this person is,” Sarma said.
The vehicle was attacked between Namsai and Mahadevpur on National Highway 52 around 10pm, the police said.
An officer at Namsai police station said villagers heard gunshots, but did not venture out of their houses for fear of being caught in the crossfire. “Our preliminary investigation revealed that the assailants knew about Chetia’s travel plans.”
Chetia joined Ulfa in 1989 and rose up the ranks to become the second-in-command of the dreaded Alpha Company, a unit of the outfit’s 28 Battalion. He laid down arms in October 2004 in a surrender ceremony at the Laipuli headquarters of the 181 Mountain Brigade and became an informer for the army, paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies.
He shifted to Rupai Siding, near Doomdooma, from Bor Ali Mazgaon village in Tinsukia after receiving death threats from Ulfa for convincing several militants to surrender.
Ulfa militants tried to eliminate him twice earlier — the last incident was around three months ago, when he was fired upon while travelling in the same Tata Sumo — but he managed to dodge them.
Although he surrendered and helped the army against Ulfa, Chetia did not quite have the look or the character of a reformed man. He was known to arm-twist people and indulge in illegal activities on the sly.
The Tinsukia administration closed down a roadside eatery that had become a den of vice for Sulfa men under his patronage. A case was registered against him at Namsai police station in Arunachal Pradesh for threatening a nurse of the Namsai Community Health Centre with a weapon.