The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Army steps in after tea belt killing

Dibrugarh/Guwahati, Oct. 12: An Ulfa strike that left three persons dead in a tea garden in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district last evening forced the army to fan out into the tea-growing areas in the capacity of a support force.

The deployment of troops in the tea belt came a day after defence minister George Fernandes visited the adjacent Dibrugarh district and asked the army’s eastern command to ascertain if the extortion note received by Hindustan Lever Ltd was the Ulfa’s handiwork.

The Ulfa struck at Dighaltorong tea estate, under Doom Dooma police station, a few hours after Fernandes left Dibrugarh. The outfit gunned down three traders on the spot and injured two persons, both of whom died in hospital today.

Assam governor Lt. Gen. (retd) Ajay Singh visited Dighaltorong to assess the situation. He told the media at Mohanbari airport, en route to Guwahati, that the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police of Tinsukia had been asked to submit a report on the incident within 24 hours. “I will submit the report to the Centre.”

Gen. Singh said two days ago that sustained counter-insurgency operations had forced the Ulfa to lie low and the extortion note received by Lever might have been the handiwork of miscreants masquerading as members of the militant group.

Criticising the Ulfa for not coming to the negotiation table, he said the group would achieve nothing by resorting to violence. “Killings for any reason are not logical and nothing can be achieved in this manner.”

Home minister Rockybul Hussain and PCC president Paban Singh Ghatowar, too, took stock of the situation at Dighaltorong.

Two organisations, the Bengali Hindu Yuva Chatra Federation and the Purabuttar Hindustani Sanmelan, have called a 12-hour statewide bandh on October 15, while the Tinsukia Zila Nagarik Sangsthan has called a 12-hour Tinsukia district bandh on October 14 in protest against yesterday’s killings.

In Guwahati, CPI national executive member Promode Gogoi criticised the defence minister for interfering in maintenance of law and order despite it being a state subject.

“His directive to the army’s eastern command to look into the HLL case without consulting the state government is tantamount to interference in state affairs. We hope the Centre will not repeat the mistake of 1990, when President’s rule was imposed after army personnel moved into Lever gardens,” he said.

On November 8, 1990, Lever airlifted all its executives and their families from the Doomdooma Aviation Research Centre airfield at Sookerating. President’s rule was imposed a few days later on November 27 and full-scale army operations launched.

Gogoi said he saw a striking similarity between that episode and the recent development.

After Lever disclosed that it had received an extortion note from the Ulfa, the government deployed two platoons of the India Reserve Batallion in its gardens. The 15 HLL gardens in Assam function under two subsidiaries, Doomdooma India Limited and Rossel Industries. These gardens are in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts.

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