The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lower Assam on red alert
- Cops to fill army shoes
- Operations aimed at wrecking Ulfa damage potential

Guwahati, Jan. 13: Once bitten, twice shy. After the bloodbath in the state, the government is tightening the security buckle to ensure that there are no loopholes this time. Police and paramilitary forces have been put on high alert in Lower Assam following the army’s decision to reassign troops from the area to the trouble-torn Upper Assam districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar.

“We expect the Ulfa to zero in on Lower Assam as soon as there is a reduction in the level of army deployment,” a senior police official posted in the area said.

He said the arrest of three heavily armed Ulfa cadre from Udalguri district near the Indo-Bhutan border on Wednesday indicated that the militants have started sneaking into the area to carry out subversive activities. According to reports, Ulfa rebels are once again taking shelter in Bhutan.

“We are also thinking of deploying more paramilitary forces in these areas now that we have received some additional force from the Centre,” he said. The Centre has recently despatched 20 companies of paramilitary forces to the state.

An army official, on the other hand, sought to allay fears saying that the re-deployment of troops from Lower Assam to Upper Assam is not much cause for worry.

“We’ll still have enough men to tackle the Ulfa,” he said, adding that the outfit had lost much of its sting in the area and also stood alienated from the people. The army’s 21 Mountain Division, also known as Red Horns division, is in charge of security in Lower Assam.

“With Bhutan no longer a base like before, the militants do have not many places to run for cover,” he pointed out.

Intelligence sources said that strategically, Lower Assam is more advantageous, as it allows access to two neighbouring countries — Bangladesh and Bhutan — and the adjacent states of Meghalaya and West Bengal.

Apart from Udalguri and Baksa areas in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District, the outfit’s 709 battalion, under the command of Hira Sarania, has fanned out in Goalpara area, sources said.

The Ulfa has also intensified its extortion drive. The outfit was allegedly linked to the recent abduction of a junior engineer of the Border Roads Organisation, who is yet to be traced.

Another area of concern for the security apparatus based in Lower Assam is the outfit’s link with jihadi elements. “The 709 battalion has strong links with Bangladeshi jihadi organisations,” a senior police official said.

Police sources said the jihadis helped provide shelter to the outfit in the char (sandbank) areas. “They don’t remain there for long, though,” he added. The outfit is also reportedly getting new recruits from some “misguided elements” in the area with the help of some Islamic fundamentalist organisations.

Operation All Clear, launched by the army to flush out the militants from their hideouts, has succeeded in apprehending five rebels from Upper Assam.

Defence sources at the army 4 Corps headquarters in Tezpur said two Ulfa men were apprehended during search operations at Tingrai, while two more were picked up from Naholia in Dibrugarh district. The troops also apprehended an Ulfa overground worker at Nipunkheti in Tinsukia district.

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