An arduous journey and two unhappy ULFA leaders

June 27th, 2008 - 7:32 pm ICT by IANS  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Amarpur (Assam-Arunachal Pradesh Border), June 27 (IANS) Armed with an AK assault rifle and a grenade strapped to his chest, a young cadre of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was totally oblivious of any ceasefire his commanders have unilaterally declared. The fair complexioned youth, barely out of his teens, was alert as he led us to a mud-and-thatch house where senior ULFA leaders Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Dutta were sitting on cane chairs.

A group of tribal Mising women were busy doing household chores nearby as the two leaders were discussing something - both on their cell phones. About a dozen armed men wielding AKs and universal machine-guns literally cordoned off the small house from all sides.

The location was Amarpur in eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district, about 600 km from Assam’s main city of Guwahati.

The village, dominated by Mising tribes people, is remote. From the last point of a motorable road, one needs to wade through a stream, trek for about six km, then cross the Dibang river in a rickety motor-boat, before embarking on another round of foot march through mud and slush to reach the mobile base of the ULFA’s 28th battalion - the outfit’s most potent striking force.

After the arduous journey, it was down to business with Hazarika and Dutta doing some hard talk about why the A and C companies of the ULFA’s 28th battalion decided to announce a unilateral ceasefire with the government June 24.

That all was not too well within the ULFA was evident with the two leaders launching a frontal attack on their central leadership.

“Since the last two years, we have raised several crucial issues, including the threat faced by the Assamese society due to unabated influx of Bangladeshi migrants into Assam. But our top leadership did not pay any heed to our concern,” Hazarika, a senior member of the outfit, told journalists Thursday.

“We decided to announce the ceasefire as a mark of protest to force the central leadership into coming forward for unconditional peace talks with the government.”

The decision by the 28th battalion has evoked strong reaction from the ULFA’s central leadership. “This entire ceasefire was engineered by the government forces. The outfit’s strength and position is intact,” ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah said in a statement issued from his exile in Bangladesh.

But despite the claims and counter claims, people in general have hailed the ceasefire.

“We welcome the ceasefire move and hope this helps in bringing permanent peace to the region,” said Narayan Baruah, a college teacher, in Tinsukia in eastern Assam.

Even Hindi-speaking business people in the region have welcomed the ceasefire. ULFA’s 28th battalion unleashed a reign of terror in eastern Assam, killing over 100 Hindi-speaking migrant workers in coordinated attacks since 2004.

“We are very happy and hope this brings in a new era of peace and hope to the people of Assam,” said Shiv Narayan Tripathi, a coal trader.

Although the government is yet to formally accept the ceasefire, security forces have slowed down their operations with absolutely no presence of the army and paramilitary troopers in places like Sadiya, where just about a fortnight back security forced had a massive presence for anti-insurgency operations.

“Anti-insurgency operations would continue as usual although we welcome the ceasefire,” said R.N. Mathur, Assam police chief.

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