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Bhutan troops on alert after ULFA kills army guide

Indian rebels killed a Bhutanese army guide, fuelling fears that guerrillas from Assam had again set up bases in the Himalayan kingdom.

world Updated: Jan 28, 2006 19:02 IST

Bhutan on Sunday put its troops on alert after Indian separatist rebels killed a Bhutanese army guide, fuelling fears that guerrillas from Assam had again set up bases in the Himalayan kingdom, officials said.

An official of Bhutan's foreign ministry said militants - suspected to be from the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) - on Thursday attacked a Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) patrol near Gerwa village in the southern district of Samdrup Jongkhar, which borders Assam.

"The RBA was on a routine patrol in the area when they were fired at with automatic weapons by suspected ULFA militants. The firing resulted in the death of one guide accompanying the security team," the official, who did not want to be named, told the agency on telephone from Bhutan's capital Thimphu.

"This is the first time in two years when we are again getting reports of movement of militants in our area," the official said.

"The killing of the RBA guide is a bad signal and we fear the ULFA is trying to set up bases once again inside our territory. We have put our troops on alert to ensure that no militants are able to use our land for any unlawful activities."

Bhutan's national newspaper Kuensel also reported the incident on its website.

"A day before the encounter, a villager had reported seeing three armed men in the forest below the village," the Kuensel said.

An unnamed army spokesman quoted by Kuensel said ULFA militants were suspected to be behind the attack.

The ULFA is a rebel group fighting for an independent Assamese homeland since 1979.

It operated out of well-entrenched bases inside Bhutan to carry out hit-and-run strikes in Assam before the Bhutanese military launched a drive against ULFA in December 2003.

Bhutan's troops smashed up to 30 rebel camps and claimed to have ousted the militants from the kingdom.

The ULFA apart, two other outlawed rebel armies from India had maintained bases in Bhutan - the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO).

Following the campaign by Bhutan's troops, ULFA rebels shifted base to Myanmar and other states in northeastern Indian.

First Published: Jan 16, 2006 13:58 IST