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Public protests in Assam over Army excesses

The Assam government is facing mounting public upsurge against alleged military atrocities soon after a wave of bombings.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2006 22:51 IST

The Assam government is facing mounting public upsurge against alleged military atrocities soon after a wave of bombings by separatists in the state ahead of Republic Day.

Thousands of angry villagers on Tuesday took to the streets, blocking a national highway and railway tracks in eastern Assam, severely disrupting both road and rail traffic for close to six hours.

The protesters were demanding the immediate release of two 'innocent' youths picked up by the army suspecting them of having links with the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).

Succumbing to public pressure, the Army released the two youths late on Tuesday. It denied the charges of any excesses.

The protests took place at Jeraigaon, the village of ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, about 450 km east of Guwahati. Soldiers of the Gorkha Rifles late Monday launched an operation in the area raiding houses and interrogating locals about reports of a senior rebel leader taking shelter in the village.

Troops later shot dead a suspected ULFA militant and picked up two local youths.

"The soldiers tortured my son with electric shock although he is in no way linked with the ULFA. The Army also tied me and physically assaulted me," Rina Gohain, mother of the one of the youths taken for interrogation, told journalists.

"This is nothing but an attempt to terrorise peace-loving villagers in the name of counter-insurgency operations," said Bhabani Das, a schoolteacher.

There were similar protests in the eastern tea-growing town of Jorhat where police last week claimed to have shot dead an ULFA rebel in an encounter.

But locals claim the slain youth was 'innocent' and he did not have any links with the ULFA. Hundreds of people in Jorhat have been staging protests and demonstrations for the past few days claiming the youth was 'framed' by the police. There are no immediate comments from the government side.

Analysts say the growing pro-ULFA and anti-government feelings sweeping the state in recent weeks could give the rebels a chance to win back the support of the common people.

"A few wrong moves by the army and other security agencies could alienate the masses. There has been a drastic change in recent years with locals opposing violent acts by militants and supporting peace campaigns by the government," an analyst said.

"But if the Army continues with such unwarranted actions, then it would help the rebels to once again win public sympathy."

The public protests and the army offensives against the ULFA come at a time when New Delhi is to hold talks with the rebel group's representatives February 7.

The ULFA in October last year nominated an 11-member team of civil society leaders known as the People's Consultative Group (PCG) to begin talks with the central government to prepare the ground for a bilateral ceasefire.

"The government must create a conducive atmosphere for talks by stopping military operations," Indira Goswami, a noted Assamese writer sought by the ULFA to mediate with the government,said in Guwahati.

The first round of talks with the PCG and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was held in New Delhi on October 26.

First Published: Feb 01, 2006 22:51 IST