ULFA trying to shift base to China: Gogoi
NEW DELHI, November 23 (PTI): Hours after ULFA militants triggered the latest blasts in Assam, chief minister Tarun Gogoi on Sunday said the banned north-east terror outfit is trying to shift base to China. "I don't know whether ULFA has support from Chinese authorities but they are undoubtedly trying to shift their base to China," Gogoi told a television channel.
A question on reports of ULFA shifting base was also fielded by Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor. "We have been speaking to all our friendly neighbouring countries about the importance of ensuring that their territory is not used against India and certainly by the countries you have mentioned," he said. Tharoor was asked by mediapersons about reports that the ULFA is moving bases from Myanmar and Bangladesh to China.
"All countries, we believe, understand the importance of cooperating with India in that regard." "I don't have any further information beyond that but as a general proposition we do make it sure that our neighbours do not allow their territory to be misused in any way against our interests, just as we will not allow our territory to be used against them," he said. The Assam police meanwhile dismissed ULFA's claim that it was not responsible for the twin blasts in Nalbari district, asserting that the outfit was behind the latest explosions.
"Preliminary investigations have showed that the ULFA is behind the blasts", Inspector General of Police (IGP-Law and Order) Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta told newsmen after visiting the blast sites here.
Many top ULFA leaders in jail, only three out
Guwahati, November 23 (Agencies): Three decades after it was established with the intention of fighting for a “sovereign” Assam, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) is in poor shape. As many as seven of its 16-member central council are either in jail or in police custody, three are missing and one has retired. Only three top leaders are now around — chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, armed wing chief Paresh Barua and deputy C-in-C Raju Barua.
It was only last week that two senior leaders — “foreign secretary” Sasha Choudhury and “finance secretary” Chitraban Hazarika — were handed over to India after they were arrested in Dhaka. Hazarika has been holding additional charge of general secretary since Anup Chetia’s arrest in 1997. The “arrest” and handing over of Choudhury and Hazarika incidentally came a week ahead of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s arrival in India. The duo was handed over to India despite the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries.
There is no confirmation about the whereabouts of Rajkhowa and Paresh Barua, but intelligence agencies maintain the former is still holed up in Bangladesh. Barua on the other hand had quietly sneaked out after he was named in the 2004 arms haul case. There are intelligence reports which say Barua is in Yunnan province of China.
Yet another top leader, Anup Chetia, was arrested way back in December 1997 in Dhaka under the Foreigners’ Act and Passport Act of that country. But even as he has completed his 10-year jail term, Chetia is still stuck due to the absence of an extradition treaty. Chetia had last December written to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to grant him refugee status and political asylum in Bangladesh.
“But whatever one says, the ULFA will exist as a force to reckon with till Paresh Barua is around,” said Sunil Nath, who under the pseudonym of Siddhartha Phukan was a central council member and chief spokesperson of the outfit from 1985 to 1992 when the ULFA was at its peak. It was during this period that the outfit carried out several major assassinations including that of industrialist Surendra Paul, apart from several sensational abductions. “No matter how many top leaders surrender, or are killed or arrested, it is Paresh Barua who matters the most. He is one person who has a solid grip across all levels of the ULFA. I often consider Barua synonymous with ULFA and vice-versa,” said Nath, who led the first-ever surrender of the ULFA in early 1992.
Meanwhile, with the latest arrests, the number of top ULFA leaders in custody has risen to six. They include advisor Bhimkanta Buragohain, vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi, central publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary, and cultural secretary Pranati Deka. Deka, the wife of Chitraban Hazarika, first shot to fame when Tata Tea Ltd arranged and paid for her medical treatment in a Mumbai hospital in 1996.
Senior leaders Bening Rabha, Ashanta Bagh Phukan and Ponaram Dihingiya of military wing have been missing since Bhutan carried out Operation All Clear in December 2003. Mrinal Hazarika, Prabal Neog and Jiten Dutta of the important 28 Battalion have since floated a “pro-talk” faction of the ULFA after they were released from jail early last year.
Former Assam DGP G M Srivastava said ULFA’s strength had reduced by half with the arrest of Choudhury and Hazarika. “It will be difficult for the ULFA to immediately find replacements for the duo, of whom Choudhury kept the ISI links and Hazarika maintained the finance,” said Srivastava, now security advisor to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.
That, however, does not rob the ULFA of its striking ability as shown by the blasts in Nalbari on Sunday. Last Tuesday, cadres of the outfit had triggered a blast that set afire 16 tanker-wagons of a train that had just moved out of Numaligarh Refinery in Upper Assam.