The Indian Army on Tuesday kept a fleet of helicopters on standby as thousands of soldiers scoured the jungles in the violence-torn northeastern state of Assam hunting for separatists blamed for a recent wave of attacks targeting Hindi-speaking people that killed 72.
An Assam government spokesman said three militants of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) were killed and three more captured in separate raids in the past two days.
"The military crackdown against the ULFA is going on in full swing with our soldiers in hot pursuit of the rebels. There have been substantial headways in the entire exercise," army spokesman Colonel Narender Singh said.
The official did not elaborate on the progress made on the operational front.
"Helicopters have been kept ready and would be pressed into service as and when required for reconnaissance missions to track the rebels located in jungles and other areas," the official said.
The ULFA attacks targeting migrant workers that began Friday prompting New Delhi to launch a massive military assault against the rebels.
"The idea of the military operation is to clear separatist bases in the jungles and to restore normalcy and instill confidence among the people," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.
An army brigade (about 4,000 personnel) is currently conducting raids in eastern Assam, while hundreds of paramilitary troopers and police commandos were also involved in separate anti-insurgency operations in the area.
"A total of about 140 paramilitary companies (about 14,000 personnel) were in the field alongside the Assam Police battalions," the chief minister said.
Defence Minister AK Antony and Army Chief General JJ Singh on Tuesday arrived in Assam to review the anti-insurgency operations against the ULFA.
Despite the heavy deployment of soldiers, however, hundreds of panic-stricken people have fled the state and many more are waiting for trains or buses out of Assam.
"One never knows when ULFA will strike again. It is better to leave the state than get killed here," said Abhay Kumar Singh, a milkman from Bihar's Khagaria district.
Singh has worked near Doomdooma in eastern Assam's Tinsukia district for six years. His cousin was among those killed in a senseless weekend attack at a brick kiln in eastern Assam.
"I was reluctant to leave as there is no work back home in Bihar. But after seeing people of my community packing up, I am scared to stay back," added Hari Prasad Yadav, a brick kiln worker. "The situation here is frightening."
But security analysts said a military offensive could not bring permanent peace to the region that is has been wrecked by separatist violence since 1979 when ULFA was formed to wage a war for independence.
"Violence cannot be dealt with violence. The military operations can at best bring the present situation under control for some days or months," said R Mooshahary, a former chief of the Border Security Force.
"The government should somehow try to open peace talks with ULFA if they want to see a permanent end to insurgency," he said.
Efforts to bring the ULFA leadership for direct talks with New Delhi failed because of differences over the release of five jailed rebel leaders - a precondition of the outfit.
Mediators chosen by ULFA, including peace activists from the state, to hold talks with New Delhi blamed New Delhi for the breakdown of negotiations between the two sides in October.
In 2000, the rebels killed at least 100 Hindi speakers in similar well-planned attacks after vowing to rid the state of all "non-Assamese workers".