Nov. 7: Security forces today fanned out into the dense Dibru-Saikhowa forest reserve of Assam’s Tinsukia district, hoping to meet an advancing 36-member Ulfa hit squad before it reaches its targets.
Troops of the army’s 181 Mountain Division, backed by CRPF and police personnel, launched the pre-emptive offensive on the basis of information provided by intelligence agencies about the presence of militants in the dense forest reserve.
Brigade Commander B.K. Gulati, whose unit is stationed in the Laipuli area of Tinsukia district, confirmed the operation, but declined to give details. He said the primary objective was to push the militants into a corner and force them to give themselves up to the security forces.
The army build-up around the 490 square km reserve began after intelligence agencies reported that an Ulfa hit squad had entered the forest from its base in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh and was waiting for an opportunity to strike.
The Ulfa has been making its presence felt after a long time, forcing the government to involve three superintendents of police in counter-insurgency operations in Tinsukia district.
The militant group shot dead five traders at Dighaltarang tea estate, in the same district, on October 12 because they refused to pay money.
Four tea companies with gardens in Upper Assam, including Hindustan Lever Ltd and Warren Tea Ltd, claim to have received extortion notes from the Ulfa. Adding to the government’s worries are reports of the militants trying to establish a base in the jungles of Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
Arunachal Pradesh police, however, rejected Assam’s suggestion to examine the feasibility of conducting a joint operation against the Ulfa along the inter-state border in Tinsukia district. Changlang deputy commissioner Talem Tapok said the request was turned down because there was no such instruction from the Arunachal Pradesh government.
The Gegong Apang government later explained that Delhi’s approval was mandatory for an inter-state operation to be launched against any militant group.
The Ulfa leadership is believed to have given a militant named Indrajit Malagharia the responsibility of looking for sites in Changlang where camps can be set up. Intelligence agencies say the Ulfa is focusing on strengthening its 28th Battalion, which is one of four guerrilla units the militant group relies on for big strikes.
The battalion is under Prabal Neog, who took charge after the previous commander, Tapan Baruah, was killed in an encounter with the army.
During his recent four-day tour of Upper Assam, the Governor asked the deputy commissioners and superintendents of police of the four districts — Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Jorhat and Sivasagar — to intensify counter-insurgency operations.
Lt Gen. (retd) Ajay Singh’s mission was to make an on-the-spot assessment of the situation in the wake of the Puja bonus-related crisis in the tea belt and Hindustan Lever’s disclosure that the Ulfa had demanded Rs 2 crore.