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Toddler freed after 75 days in captivity
- Forces claim four abductors killed in encounter

Aug. 22: Two-and-a-half-year-old Harshika, the abducted daughter of a Cachar-based tea garden executive, was today reunited with her family in Guwahati after 75 days in captivity.

Police claimed that the Dima Halam Daoga (DHD), which was initially suspected of having taken the toddler hostage, “played the key role in ensuring her safe release”.

Inspector-general of police (special branch) Khagen Sarma said Harshika had been abducted for ransom by a ragtag band of Kuki and Khasi militants. “We got in touch with the abductors through our contact in the DHD. After a series of discussions, the rebels agreed to free the girl. The DHD linkman brought Harshika to Jiribam in Manipur, where our men were waiting to receive her.”

Security forces later killed four of the five abductors at Jiribam, the police said. The encounter is said to have taken place on August 15, a day after the girl was freed.

Harshika is the youngest to have been abducted by militants in two decades of insurgency in Assam. Her father, 32-year-old Sunil Sarawat, is an assistant manager at Kaline tea estate, owned by the Birlas.

Sources said the abductors had demanded Rs 1.5 crore ransom for Harshika, but Sarawat denied paying any. The girl had been kidnapped from her father’s bungalow on June 7. The abductors, all armed, were wearing masks.

A police source in Silchar confirmed that the captors were in touch with Harshika’s parents over the past month. Sarawat even met some “DHD intermediaries” and handed over two pairs of shoes and some clothes for his daughter, he said.

Another source said the abductors had contacted Benoy Bhasin, chief executive of Jayshree Tea and Industries Ltd, to demand jobs for Dimasa tribals in the company’s gardens in Cachar.

Harshika and her parents will board an Indian Airlines flight from Guwahati to Silchar tomorrow. Cachar superintendent of police Promode Chetia had gone to Guwahati along with the Sarawats.

There has been a spate of abductions in Cachar district over the past few months. Today, militants suspected to be from the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) abducted five milkmen from a forest village near Bishnupur on the Assam-Mizoram border.

The hostages, all migrants, were on their way to the nearby market to sell milk when the militants waylaid them. The deputy inspector-general of police of south Assam, N.M. Dutta, said a manhunt had been launched in the area. A faction of the BNLF is believed to have hideouts in the Bhuban Hills, close to the spot from where the milkmen were abducted.

n See Northeast

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