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Bangla death sentence for Ulfa chief

New Delhi, Jan. 30: Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua was today sentenced to death in absentia by a Bangladesh court, a verdict India hopes will limit his movement options and raise the chances of his capture.

Indian officials feel the order by a foreign court, which came in an arms smuggling case, could help New Delhi put pressure on Myanmar, where the 57-year-old Assam militant is believed to be hiding.

Union home ministry sources said the verdict had allayed fears that Barua might think of returning to Bangladesh if there’s a change of government in Dhaka.

As Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s administration had cracked down on Indian insurgents in Bangladesh, Delhi feared that her possible exit could embolden the Ulfa boss to attempt to revive his operations and lost wealth in that country.

“Since he is not in Bangladesh, he probably cannot appeal against the verdict,” said a senior home ministry official, who added that Dhaka had also issued a warrant for the attachment of the Ulfa chief’s properties.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which investigates terror cases, feels it will now be easier to prove Barua has been engaged in terrorism across South Asia and collect evidence against him.

Now that Bangladesh has found him guilty, pressure may brought to bear on Myanmar to flush out the scores of Ulfa cadres believed to be camping in northwest Myanmar.

Barua was sentenced to death along with 13 others in a 2004 arms smuggling case in Bangladesh. He is accused of gun-running in the grey arms markets along the Myanmar-China border.

His fellow convicts included a former minister, an Islamist leader and five Bangladeshi intelligence officials including their chief — an indication of Barua’s depth of operations in India’s neighbourhood.

Indian agencies claim that some arrested militants have told interrogators that Barua was in touch with operatives of Pakistani spy agency ISI, too.

The leader of Ulfa’s hard-line anti-talks faction has been evading the Indian police since the late ’70s. A former football player and Indian railway employee, Barua had got himself well-entrenched in Bangladesh with a family under the alias Nur-uz-Zaman.

On April 2, 2004, sophisticated arms and ammunition were being loaded for delivery to Ulfa in 10 trucks on the jetty of a state-owned fertiliser company in Chittagong when Bangladesh authorities cracked down.

Among the convicts were Jamaat-e-Islami leader Motiur Rahman Nizami, former deputy interior minister Lutfozzaman Babar, and a former National Security Intelligence director general, Major General (retired) Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury.

Handing down the sentences, Chittagong metropolitan special tribunal judge S.M. Mojibur Rahman said it was one of the country’s most sensational and important cases, state prosecutor Kamal Uddin told reporters. Defence lawyer Kamrul Islam Sazzad has vowed to appeal.

On December 31, the NIA had registered an FIR under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against Barua, Ulfa general secretary Anup Chetia and anyone else associated with the outfit.

Sources told The Telegraph that this month’s killing of senior Ulfa commander Partha Gogoi, in Mon district of Nagaland, had come on Barua’s “instructions”. “Barua was in Taga (in Sagaing division, Myanmar) when Gogoi was killed,” a source said, apparently on the basis of communication intercepts.