March 8: Ulfa militants blew up a large petrol storage tank and bombed a gas pipeline in a series of attacks across Assam last night that resulted in the loss of two lives and crores of rupees.
The United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) struck at the heart of Assam’s industrial showpiece — Digboi oil refinery’s storage tank containing 5,250 kilolitres of petrol — blasted a gas pipeline at Kathalguri in Dibrugarh, attacked a police reserve in Bongaigaon, a police outpost in Darrangiri and killed two Hindi-speaking settlers near Darrangiri.
Paresh Barua, chief of the outfit that was being seen as a spent force, called up newspaper offices to claim responsibility for the attacks. “My boys blew up the oil tank and gas pipeline. We will carry out similar strikes in the coming days. The fight against Indian forces will continue till our conditions for talks are met,” he said. The attacks come in the run-up to the Ulfa’s Sainik Diwas on March 16.
A harried state government has sounded a red alert.
Over 80 fire-tenders from Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Sivasagar were battling the Digboi fire. The complex has seven oil tanks containing high-speed diesel, petrol and kerosene.
Security personnel, including the army, are trying to stop the fire from spreading. The preliminary damage, according to AOA spokesman H. Ahmed, is over Rs 13 crore. Over 2,000 people living in a 500 metre-radius of the site have left their homes.
The Ulfa said it was protesting the “economic exploitation ... since the days of the Raj”.
Tinsukia SP Indra Kanta Gogoi said the fire was sparked by a rocket-propelled grenade or a mortar. But the army claimed to have recovered an improvised explosive device from the site and has pressed into action a bomb disposal squad.
IOC’s director (refinery) A.K. Arora rushed to Digboi from New Delhi. An internal inquiry has been instituted and the report sought by March 10.
The gas pipeline blast in Khatalguri came an hour later. An IED was used to trigger it. Diburgarh SP Subhrojyoti Hazarika said a 150-metre wire and a battery have been found.
The attacks started in Bongaigaon at 10.30 pm, when Ulfa cadre fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a police reserve and it landed on the bungalow of additional branch inspector, damaging the building. No one was hurt. Fifteen minutes later, militants struck at the Darrangiri police outpost. But the attack was swiftly repulsed. To divert police attention and make the escape of the attackers easy, another group fired at a Hindi-speaking settlement near Darrangiri, killing two persons.