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Three rhino poachers held

Guwahati, Oct. 4: Police have arrested three persons, including two surrendered Karbi Peoples’ Liberation Tigers (KPLT) militants, who were allegedly involved in the recent incidents of rhino poaching in Kaziranga.

Assam environment and forest minister Rakibul Hussain described the arrests as an “important breakthrough” which will help in busting the rhino-poaching racket.

According to a police source, the trio comprised Jiten Bey, alias Rocket, Francis Milik and Shumbemo Lotha. “Bey and Milik, both former KPLT militants, were apprehended from Diphu in Karbi Anglong district while Lotha was picked up from Dimapur in Nagaland last night,” the source said.

Six rhinos were killed by poachers within a week.

Speaking on the occasion of the 58th Wildlife Week here today, Hussain said militants active in the Karbi Anglong hills, armed with AK-47 rifles, are involved in poaching rhinos at Kaziranga.

He said the state government had decided to arm forest guards with sophisticated weapons to combat these militants and poachers. “We have already placed orders for procurement of sophisticated weapons, such as AK-47 rifles, self-loading rifles, carbines, revolvers and machineguns through the state home department. We have already received the first consignment of SLRs and the other weapons are also likely to be delivered soon,” he said.

The minister said earlier the forest guards were only allowed to use .315 bore rifles which were no match for sophisticated weapons used by poachers.

“It (procurement of sophisticated weapons) was made possible because of a notification issued by the state government on July 14, 2010, amending the power to use arms by forest staff,” he said.

Hussain said staff working in protected forests were given immunity from prosecution if they killed poachers.

“Earlier forest guards were interrogated and sometimes even arrested by the police for killing poachers. The immunity from prosecution has given a boost to the morale of the frontline forest staff.”

The minister said the principal secretary of the environment and forest department, Saraswati Prasad and the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Suresh Chand, had been asked to prepare a detailed plan for constitution of a state wildlife crime control bureau. This will be on the lines of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau constituted by the Centre.

“We had also amended the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, in 2010 to make poaching a non-bailable offence and a repeat offence would attract life imprisonment,” Hussain said.

Principal chief conservator of forests V.K. Vishnoi, said: “While criticising forest guards for the killing of rhinos, we also need to remember that so many guards have laid down their lives and many others were maimed while protecting wildlife in the state.”