Guwahati, Feb. 5: Ulfa today retracted its call for a boycott of the 33rd National Games in Guwahati, blowing away the cloud of uncertainty over the safety of the participants ironically just as the skies over the host city opened up for the first downpour of the year.
The announcement by Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, conveyed to the media by email, came within hours of Arjuna winners Bhogeswar Barua, Monalisa Barua-Mehta, Gilbertson Sangma, Babul Phukan and Tayabun Nisha appealing to the militant group not to disrupt the February 9-18 sports gala.
An explosives-laden car was blown to smithereens in front of the city traffic police headquarters at Panbazar only yesterday morning, raising fears of an explosion of violence during the Games.
Rajkhowa’s statement said Ulfa decided not to interfere in the Games in deference to requests from various organisations and individuals. But he warned that the militant group would not allow any more events of this magnitude until the “Indo-Assam conflict” was resolved.
The sense of relief was nowhere more palpable than at the Assam Olympic Association (AOA). Chief minister Tarun Gogoi told the media at the AOA office within the R.G. Baruah Sports Complex in the evening that “everybody can now participate without fear”.
The government had been telling the participating contingents, albeit not very convincingly, that law and order would not be a problem. Gogoi admitted as much while reacting to Ulfa’s announcement that it would steer clear of the Games.
“Yes, there was tension but a lot of it has eased. I am pleased with the development,” the chief minister said.
On whether the government would reciprocate by initiating steps to revive the peace process, he said: “Our doors are always open. Let them come forward.”
Prodded to explain how different this offer was from previous ones, Gogoi said: “Ulfa reacted to the appeal from sportspersons. I also appeal to them to come forward for talks. Let us see how they react.”
The chief minister, however, said the government would not “lower its guard” on the basis of the militant group’s assurance of zero interference in the Games.
The Unified Command, too, decided to continue its “proactive counter-terrorism operations to thwart the evil designs of Ulfa”.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the operations group of the three-tier structure, comprising the army, police and paramilitary forces. The meeting was the final review of security deployment and strategy for the Games.
Director-general of police R.N. Mathur said there would be no change in the level of deployment of security forces.
A source in the Unified Command said Ulfa was not the only threat. “There are also jihadi elements to contend with.”
The police and paramilitary forces have been given the responsibility of ensuring security at the Games village and sports venues. The army will form the outer ring of security.
Although nobody died in the car bomb explosion yesterday, it was a wake-up call — if one was needed — for the security establishment ahead of the Games. The police have sought help from their Arunachal Pradesh counterparts to trace the owner of the vehicle, Bimal Deori.
The army gunned down a top leader of Ulfa’s 109 battalion in Meghalaya. A Chinese M-20 pistol, a magazine and a grenade were found on the militant, Karno Rabha. The incident occurred at Tikrikilla.
Two more Ulfa militants, Manu Phukon and Sania Dutta, were arrested by a combined army and police team at Santipur in Sivasagar in the wee hours.