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KLO says leader deserted outfit

- Release fuels talks of rift in ranks

Siliguri, Feb. 25: The KLO today released a statement saying Rajiv Kathai, its publicity secretary and central committee member, has deserted the outfit, fuelling the speculation of a rift in the ranks over talks with the government.

The statement by KLO general secretary Kailash Koch is the first of its kind by the outfit, which has seen many desertions in the past.

Sources said Rajiv Kathai, a resident of Bongaigaon in Assam, was pro-talks and felt isolated after four other pro-talks leaders were arrested by the police in the past two months.

Kailash Koch, who is against talks with the Centre or the state, said Rajiv had decided to surrender to Assam police and had deserted the outfit’s camp on February 18. He had taken with him a young cadre, Kailash Koch wrote. “As he left the camp without informing, it took nearly a week for us to realise that he has deserted our organisation,” the release read.

Rajiv, who had joined KLO on July 2011, was a rarity in the outfit as he had joined after a stint in the Indian Army as a jawan, according to intelligence sources.

Kailash Koch wrote that he was now in the “shelter of Assam police and fully ready to surrender to the Government of India”, according to Koch’s statement. He also tried to “lure some of our young cadres to go with him” but that was not fruitful, the release said.

Calls made to Rajiv Kathai’s cellphones this evening went unanswered.

Koch also wrote that Rajiv ceased to be a primary member of the KLO.

On January 14, Pran Narayan Koch, the assistant general secretary of the KLO, had said the outfit was ready for “unconditional” talks with the state and the Centre.

Four days later, Kailash Koch shot down the talks offer.

The outfit also did not condemn the arrest of some of its senior leaders such as Tom Adhikary and Nilambar Rajbangshi, who were caught by police near Siliguri earlier this month.

Both have been charged with involvement in the Jalpaiguri blast that killed six people on December 26 last year. A day after his arrest, Tom publicly said the outfit was “ready for talks”.

A source said the release “has fuelled the speculations about the split in the KLO central committee. Different intelligence agencies have said that Rajiv was one among those KLO leaders in favour of holding talks with the governments.”

The source added: “Now that most of the leaders who support talks are behind bars, he was feeling sidelined in the outfit.”

Intelligence sources said Rajiv was a tech-savvy KLO member.

“He had worked in the army for some time but left the job and then joined the KLO. He has a good knowledge of computers and was always alert that police or other agencies must not be able to track the IP addresses of the computers and cellphones used by the KLO for communication,” the police source said.

Among these people, police in north Bengal are now trying to nab Malkhan Singh and Shyam Roy. While Malkhan is leading a group of KLO cadres and carrying out subversive activities in Malda district, Shyam is believed to be hiding somewhere in the neighbouring country of Nepal, sources said.