Tezpur, Jan. 9: The army has been given the go-ahead for a massive retribution to the killings of Hindi-speaking migrant workers in Assam by Ulfa militants, signalling a shift in Delhi’s policy to bring the group to the talks table.
“First, whatever it takes,” defence minister A.K. Antony stated before contouring the route map for counter-insurgency operations. “Talks, yes, but first we have to beat down this (Ulfa’s) challenge.”
He was speaking after a meeting this evening with Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, defence secretary Shekhar Dutt, army chief Gen. Joginder Jaswant Singh, eastern command chief Lt Gen. K.S. Jamwal, 4 Corps chief Lt Gen. R.K. Chhabbra, Assam chief secretary P.C. Sarma and director-general of police R.N. Mathur.
To begin with, the army chief said, the 4 Corps — the army formation responsible for counter-insurgency operations in Assam — has reassigned almost a brigade of troops to Upper Assam. Two battalions, comprising around 1,800 soldiers, have been pulled out from operations in Lower Assam and redeployed in and around Sivasagar.
The ambit of the current phase of operations has been widened to include parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, a policy which had not been publicly stated earlier.
The army chief said: “Yes, operations in Arunachal and Meghalaya (are likely), based on information. Intimation is being given to the respective state governments.”
A meeting of the unified command for Assam is likely to be held in Guwahati tomorrow to plan escalation of operations. Gogoi said: “We are co-ordinating with the army and we will work more vigorously to deal firmly (with Ulfa).”
Ulfa militants are suspected to be exploiting ambiguities of inter-state boundaries to strike and flee to shelters outside Assam — to neighbouring states and also Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The defence minister said he was concerned about such shelters.
Ulfa refuge zones in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya are suspected to be in and around the districts of Tezu and Tura.