4,000 soldiers pressed to combat ULFA
India has pressed at least 4,000 soldiers to combat separatists in the restive northeastern state of Assam.india Updated: Jan 09, 2007 22:25 IST
India has pressed at least 4,000 soldiers to combat separatists in the restive northeastern state of Assam in the wake of a string of attacks targeting Hindi-speaking people that has left 69 dead.
"A brigade (about 4,000 personnel) has been moved to areas in Sivasagar and Dhemaji districts in eastern Assam for operations. The operations are on and we shall do whatever else is required to meet the challenge," Indian Army chief Gen JJ Singh told journalists at the northern Assam's garrison town of Tezpur.
The military crackdown is targeted against the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which is blamed for the latest attacks on Hindi-speaking migrant workers.
"The army will extend whatever support is required to meet the challenge. We cannot allow the ULFA to continue with such attacks," Defence Minister AK Antony said.
The defence minister and the army chief, who arrived in Tezpur to assess and review the situation in Assam, held a closed-door meeting with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt was also present.
"We hope to restore normalcy within a few days. We cannot permit this kind of attacks and shall have to meet the situation strongly," Antony said.
He said peace talks with the ULFA could be possible only if the outfit shuns violence.
"It has been our policy since the time of Panditji (India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru) to bring to the mainstream all peace-loving forces. The same policy continues in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and also in Jammu & Kashmir.
"The government of India is willing to talk to anyone if they abjure violence and come for unconditional talks," Antony said.
Asked if the government was willing to accept ULFA's preconditions for talks by releasing five of their jailed leaders, he said the outfit must first show its sincerity by agreeing for talks.
Antony added that the presence of rebel camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar was a matter of concern to India.
Meanwhile, a police spokesman said two people were injured in a bomb blast on Tuesday night adjacent to the chief minister's office in Assam's main city of Guwahati. "The bomb was kept on a parked motorcycle injuring two pedestrians," a police official said.
As many as 1,200 paramilitary troopers arrived in Assam as reinforcements to conduct anti-insurgency operations in the state.
"Already 12 companies of additional paramilitary forces have arrived and eight more (about 800) are expected to reach soon," Assam Education Minister Ripun Bora said.
The chief minister said instructions were given to the security forces to further intensify their operations against the militants.
"The whole exercise is aimed at instilling confidence among the people and prevent further attacks," Gogoi said.
In continuing raids, soldiers Tuesday killed an ULFA militant and injured another in an encounter in the northern Baska district.
A large cache of weapons was also recovered from the slain rebel.
"The operations are already showing results," an army commander said requesting not to be named. He did not elaborate on the progress of the crackdown.
"The ULFA is acting out of desperation because they are frustrated. The ULFA is being controlled from somewhere else," the army commander said.
Army, police and paramilitary forces were engaged in a massive anti-insurgency operation in Assam and also in the adjoining state of Arunachal Pradesh where the ULFA has set up bases to carry out their hit-and-run guerrilla strikes.
"The joint offensive by security forces of both Assam and Arunachal Pradesh is on to track down ULFA rebels believed to be taking shelter here," Arunachal Pradesh police chief Amod Kanth said.
Five districts of Arunachal Pradesh share border with Assam with intelligence reports indicating that the ULFA was using at least three districts in the region as bases to carry out their strikes in Assam.
The security operation is mainly confined to the extremely hostile and thickly wooded terrain in Tirap, Changlang and Lohit districts of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering eastern Assam.
Details of the operation were not immediately known. Intelligence officials said ULFA guerrillas use Arunachal Pradesh as a transit to their training bases in Myanmar that adjoins the state.