Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Thimphu on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi, June 17: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message to Bhutan in reference to its closeness to the Northeast was clear: “Terrorism divides. Tourism unites”.
Bhutan being close to the Northeast, security became a natural component of New Delhi’s dialogue with Thimphu this week. India has sought Bhutan’s cooperation in fighting Indian insurgent groups looking for shelter in the border areas of Bhutan. The NDFB (Songbijit) has temporary camps along the BTAD border with Bhutan, sources said.
The NDFB has about 20 small groups operating along the area straddling Chirang and Baksa districts of the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) in Assam and Bhutan’s forested foothills. The Songbijit faction is wreaking havoc in the Bodo areas and is held responsible for killings and extortion.
“India has sought Bhutan’s cooperation in dealing with this (the insurgents). We recall how in 2003, Bhutan had pushed back Ulfa,” a government official said.
Information on the Indian insurgent groups was provided to Modi’s team before the visit last week. Sources said Thimphu’s job of cleansing the borders of insurgents is dovetailed to another proposal from the Indian side.
Modi said India and Bhutan could together form a holistic approach to tourism and develop a circuit “combining India’s northeastern states and Bhutan”. “Terrorism divides. Tourism unites,” he said at the joint session of Bhutan Parliament. The Prime Minister said if Bhutan’s natural wealth and capabilities join together, it will be a big invitation for the world. India has also proposed a joint sports festival between the northeastern states and Bhutan.
Officials said the insurgency problem with Bhutan was restricted to the borders. With better guarding and coordination between forces on the two sides the problem could be mitigated, it was felt.
The NDFB’s presence in Bhutan is seen as a fringe problem that needs to be nipped in the bud before it assumes proportions like Ulfa did a decade ago. The NDFB is essentially headless on the Bhutan side as the top leadership is in Myanmar.
Songbijit is understood to have formed an alliance with the Manipur valley-based outfit People’s Liberation Army (PLA). He is said to be located somewhere close to Tamu in Myanmar, close to the Manipur border.
NDFB-S cadre killed
A cadre of the Songbijit faction of the NDFB was killed today while two others managed to escape during a heavy exchange of fire with security forces at Auzarguri under Serfanguri police station in Kokrajhar district.
Police said a joint team was carrying out counter-insurgency operations in the area after getting information about the movement of NDFB (S) cadres, when they spotted three suspected cadres of the outfit coming on a motorcycle. The militants managed to hide behind a bush.
Subsequently, a heavy exchange of fire took place in which a militant, identified as Lakiprasad Basumatary alias B. Laijam of Aflagaon, was killed. An AK-56 rifle, a grenade, 160 rounds of live ammunition, one magazine, three mobile phones and Rs 3,000 in cash were recovered from his possession.
The two other militants managed to escape. Local residents said they heard several rounds of ammunition being fired from both sides and they had to take shelter in a nearby school during the gunfight.
On the other hand, a platoon of NDFB (S) cadres today displayed their weapon strength to mediapersons in a forest near the encounter site after the security forces had left the area. A team of about 10-12 NDFB (S) cadres led by area commander B. Jwblang came carrying sophisticated arms to the spot and and Jwblang fired three rounds in the air crying revenge. “We will strike back soon against the killing of our man,” he said.
In a related development, the secretary of the outfit’s information and publicity wing, N.E. Esara, in a statement accused the Assam government of instigating the rival Ranjan Daimary faction to work against the NDFB (S) by providing him illegal arms. He denied reports about NDFB (S) cadres being killed in an encounter at Gopaljhora under Bagribari police station in Parbhatjhora subdivision of Kokrajhar district on Sunday.