Dec. 15: In pre-dawn darkness, the Bhutanese army mowed into camps of insurgent outfits in its southern districts bordering Bengal and Assam as the Indian army formed a wall on this side of the border.
The hammer-and-anvil operation started with the Royal Bhutan Army attacking at least four hideouts in areas bordering Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district and Assam’s Nalbari.
A newly-formed Bhutanese government militia aided the royal army in the move against insurgent camps of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) — which are active in Assam — and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), operating in Bengal.
Insurgents moved into Bhutan to set up camps 12 years ago and the Indian government has been trying for long to persuade the authorities there to crack down on the rebels.
On Saturday night, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk spoke to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.
“Our PM gave them the go-ahead. We have alerted our security forces to intensify and moved the army in full strength. All security enforcement agencies will offer their full cooperation to the state governments,” external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha told Parliament.
Formations of the Indian army’s 4 Corps based in Tezpur and a division of the 33 Corps based in Binaguri, North Bengal, are being used to seal the border and intercept fleeing insurgent leaders. Two helicopters have also been pressed into service.
“We have reports that the royal army has dismantled at least four major hideouts,” a Bhutan home ministry official said from Thimphu. One of these is an Ulfa area command headquarters. The army was engaged in a fierce shootout with Ulfa rebels near the outfit’s central operation headquarters, he added.
The Bhutanese embassy in Delhi said the camps are “scattered across southern Bhutan bordering Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Sikkim in the west, thereby covering the entire stretch of Bhutan’s southern boundary with India. Bhutan is particularly sensitive to India’s security concerns in this region. The Ulfa has 13 camps, the NDFB 12 camps, and the KLO five camps.”
In November, Bhutan Prime Minister Lyonpo Jigme Thinley met the insurgents and asked them to leave the country. The ultimatum apparently had little effect and the royal army began deploying its units together with the militia in batches from the middle of November.
The king was in southern Bhutan two days ago to boost the morale of the armed forces and give the final touch to a strategy to eliminate the danger that has been described as the most serious threat ever faced by the kingdom. The Bhutanese army is trained by Indians.
“Bhutan is a sovereign country and has taken the decision independently,” Sinha said.