| Prabal Neog |
Guwahati, March 1: Pro-talks leader Prabal Neog today claimed that he himself had handed over the $10,000 found on slain Ulfa leader Bhaskar Hazarika a few days before Neog’s arrest in September 2007 in Tezpur.
Hazarika, second-in-command of the outfit’s 28 battalion, of which Neog was a former commander, was killed in an encounter with security forces at Majuli on February 26, along with another militant.
Apart from the US currency, the police also recovered Rs 1 lakh and arms and ammunition.
Neog said he had given the $20,000 to Hazarika, who was his second-in-command at that time. “I had exchanged rupees for dollars in Nepal in 2006 and Bhaskar was with me at that time. I had given him $20,000 to keep in safe custody,” said Neog, who joined the pro-talks group after he was released from Dibrugarh jail last year.
He did not disclose the exact amount exchanged but said, “The dollars found on Bhaskar must be from the amount I had given him.”
Jorhat superintendent of police Deepak Choudhury said the currency notes had been wrapped in polythene to prevent damage by water.
“First we thought these were explosives kept inside the polythene wrapper,” Choudhury said.
Neog said it was very important for Ulfa leaders to keep US dollars ready, since the currency was accepted in any country.
“We were always on the run and never knew to which country we had to flee and when, so we kept US dollars ready whenever possible,” he said.
Security forces had been baffled at the recovery of US dollars from Hazarika.
The police believed that Hazarika was probably planning to buy arms for the outfit.
Neog said it was easy to convert Indian currency to US dollars in Nepal.
“I paid Rs 5 extra for every dollar in the transaction. The value of one US dollar at that time was Rs 54 or Rs 55,” he said.
He added that Ulfa cadres holed up in Myanmar camps used the US currency.
“Indian currency is accepted on the Indian side of the border but on the Chinese border with Myanmar, the cadres, be it Ulfa or NSCN, use US dollars,” he said.
Hazarika, it is believed, had spent half of the amount given to him by Neog, in the past two years.
Sources said Hazarika had returned from Myanmar only a month ago and was taking shelter in Karbi Anglong district. “He had moved into Majuli through the Lakhimpur border only the night before he was killed,” a police official said.
Security forces have launched a massive operation at Majuli to flush out militants who are suspected to be in hiding there. Two platoons of paramilitary forces were rushed to the island after Thursday’s incident.