The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ulfa-hit oil firms turn to army

New Delhi, March 12: Oil majors have decided to interact with the army in the Northeast more often and periodically review security at their installations as part of a new strategy to counter the threat from militant outfits.

As many as 30 additional CRPF companies have been provided to the oil sector in the wake of the Ulfa’s attack on the Digboi refinery and an Oil India Ltd (OIL) pipeline at Kathalguri in Dibrugarh district.

Senior officials of the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) met GOC, 4 Corps, Lt Gen. Mohinder Singh, who heads the Unified Command for counter-insurgency operations in Assam, here yesterday to seek the armed forces’ help in the task of protecting oil installations from saboteurs.

A central team led by M.S. Srinivasan, additional secretary in the Union petroleum ministry, had visited Assam following the Ulfa strikes last week. The team returned to the capital yesterday afternoon after making an in-depth assessment of the situation.

The mortar attack in Digboi was the first instance of the Ulfa targeting an oil refinery. Till that day, the outfit had limited its acts of sabotage to oil pipelines and drilling and storage sites.

H.K.L. Das, a former general manager of the IOC’s Guwahati refinery, had been taken hostage by militants in the early nineties. However, he was freed unharmed.

A senior IOC official said the attack on the Digboi refinery may have increased the distance between the Ulfa and the residents of Assam. “Most of the employees of Digboi refinery are residents of Assam and the attack on the refinery was tantamount to targeting the state’s people,” he said.

The official said oil companies had always been providing employment to local residents and financing construction of roads, bridges, schools and hospitals across the Northeast. “Therefore, attacks like the one in Digboi will certainly not endear the extremists to the people.”

The petroleum ministry was surprised by the attacks because these followed the announcement of a hike in the royalty on crude oil drilled in Assam. Officials said the only motive behind the Ulfa’s offensive was to grab the headlines.

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