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Death sentence for Ulfa chief

- Bangla court issues verdict in arms case

New Delhi, Jan. 30: Ulfa’s commander-in-chief Paresh Barua was today sentenced to death by a Bangladesh special court, infusing optimism in North Block about his entrapment.

Barua was sentenced to death along with 13 others in a 2004 arms smuggling case in Bangladesh. Indian authorities feel the verdict will not just limit the manoeuvring space enjoyed by Barua, who remains in hiding, but alsomake investigation by Indian agencies that much easier.

Barua was given the death sentence in absentia.

Officials said the court pronouncement today offered relief to India’s apprehensions that Barua could think of a return to Bangladesh in case of a regime change. As the Sheikh Hasina government cracked down on Indian insurgent groups, fear lurked that a regime change in Dhaka would embolden the Ulfa leader to revive lost operations and wealth.

“Since he is not in Bangladesh, he probably cannot appeal against the verdict,” said a senior home ministry official, who added that the Bangladesh government had also issued a warrant for attachment of Barua’s properties. “The Ulfa leader was in Taga (Sagaing division, Myanmar) when Partha Gogoi was killed,” sources told The Telegraph, apparently on the basis of communication intercepts.

A senior Ulfa commander, Partha Gogoi, was killed in Mon district of Nagaland this month on Barua’s “instructions”, sources said.

On December 31 last year, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) registered an FIR against Barua, Ulfa general secretary Anup Chetia and anyone associated with the outfit. With today’s verdict, the NIA feels its task of proving Barua’s disrepute as a terrorist not just in India but also across South Asia has been bolstered.

Since both Bangladesh and India have red corner notices against the Ulfa leader and one of them has found him guilty, pressure could now rise on Myanmar to flush out his militants. Barua is understood to have at least 50 loyal cadres in the insurgent camps of northwestern Myanmar.

NIA sources conceded that the development will help investigation and evidence collection by the agency since Bangladesh has already proven that Barua is a militant.

The 57-year-old rebel leader is also accused of gun-running through the grey arms markets along the Myanmar-China border.

On April 2, 2004, sophisticated arms and ammunition were being loaded for delivery to Ulfa in 10 trucks at the jetty of a fertiliser company in Chittagong when Bangladesh authorities cracked down. Barua, till then evading the law, was entangled in the legal system of Bangladesh.

Around 1,500 boxes containing submachine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, submachine carbines, Chinese pistols, 840 rocket launchers, 27,000 grenades and 11.41 million bullets were seized from the trucks.

Local media reported the weapons were smuggled from Hong Kong via Singapore.

Soon after the verdict, the pro-BNP lawyers protested against the ruling chanting slogans outside the courtroom calling it “politically motivated” judgement.

The defence lawyers said they would appeal against the verdict before the high court as “we did not get the justice”.

But prosecution lawyer Ashak Das told reporters that, “With the verdict today, those who wanted to turn Bangladesh into a militant state and used its territory for weapon smuggling were punished appropriately.”

Elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), armed police and plainclothesmen virtually laid a security siege inside and around the court complex while the people were allowed inside only after security checks.

A former football player and an Indian Railways employee, Barua has been on the run from security agencies in India for decades. Using the alias Nur-uz-Zaman, he was well-entrenched in the neighbouring country with a family and an adopted religion.

The fact that the list of convicts in the case includes ministers and five Bangladesh intelligence officials points to Barua’s depth of operations in the neighbourhood. Indian agencies claim that interrogation reports of some arrested militants also state that Barua was in touch with ISI operatives.

Assam director-general of police Khagen Sarma said with this verdict, Barua has become an international fugitive, which is advantageous for the Indian security forces.

“His crimes are no longer confined to Assam or India only, as he was also convicted by the court of law of a foreign country, which will make it difficult for him to travel freely abroad. Definitely it is a good development from our point of view,” Sarma said.

Former Ulfa vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi said, “Barua can now appeal to a higher court. But I am not sure whether he would do it as I am not in touch with him.” Gogoi said he did not know about the seizure as he was in jail at that time. “I am not even sure whether such an incident took place,” said Gogoi.