Guwahati: flourishing arms bazaar for northeast rebels

April 23rd, 2008 - 12:21 pm ICT by admin  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Guwahati, April 23 (IANS) Assam’s main city of Guwahati is turning out to be a flourishing bazaar for trading arms and explosives with frontline separatist groups from the northeast offering a ready market to scores of gunrunners, officials said. Police and intelligence officials say weapons syndicates have of late stepped up their activities by using Guwahati to smuggle arms and explosives to at least 30-odd rebel armies operating in the region.

The reports got credence when police Sunday seized 10 Programmable Time Explosive Devices (PTED) from a cargo counter of a private transport operator in the heart of Guwahati city.

“The PTEDs were meant for the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) and was headed to Kakopathar in eastern Assam through the Network Travels cargo,” said city police spokesman Debojit Deuri.

The explosive devices were stacked in a packet and booked through the Network Travels cargo section under the guise of sending a parcel containing consumables.

A police official investigating the case said gunrunners brought in the explosive devices from Bangladesh via Meghalaya to Guwahati en route to eastern Assam.

“In recent months we had seized a large cache of weapons and other explosives in and around Guwahati. While some of the seized weapons were for the ULFA, there are possibilities that some of the consignments could be for other militant outfits active in the northeast,” an intelligence official said requesting anonymity.

The porous international borders, thick with forests, along the northeastern states of Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura have been used by the illegal weapons syndicate to smuggle small and medium arms and ammunition, besides explosives, to northeastern militant groups.

“Gunrunners are very much active and busy along the border areas with militant groups from the northeastern region being the main buyers,” an army commander engaged in counter-insurgency operations in the northeast told IANS requesting anonymity.

India and Bangladesh share a 4,095-km-long border, of which the northeastern states account for more than half. Over 70 percent of the border is unfenced with concrete pillars separating the two countries.

India shares a 1,600-km unfenced border with Myanmar.

“We are now working for greater synergy between the police forces in the northeastern states to curb such activities of the gunrunners,” a senior Assam police official said.

The region’s separatist groups have long purchased arms from the port town of Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh police in 2006 seized a huge cache of weapons from the Chittagong Hill Tracts with both Indian and Bangladeshi authorities suspecting the consignment was meant for at least four separatist groups in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.

Bangladeshi authorities said the seizures were estimated between $4.5 million and $7 million and included around 20,000 automatic and semi automatic rifles, among them Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, hand grenades and other small arms.

“Almost all the underground groups in the northeast purchase weapons at a very cheap price from gunrunners in the border areas, especially Bangladesh. You can buy everything including missiles,” Kughalo Mulatonu, a senior rebel leader of the S.S. Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), told IANS by telephone from somewhere in Nagaland.

“Some of the big underground groups often act as brokers between smaller outfits and the gunrunners for finalising arms’ deals.”

Most of the weapons, including AK-47 and AK-56 assault rifles, mortars, 40mm rocket launchers, pistols, revolvers and grenades come via the Arakans - a mountainous area in Myanmar - from parts of Thailand and Cambodia.

The arms consignments are often routed by sea through the Bay of Bengal to its destination in the Arakan forest in Myanmar, which is across Mizoram, before making their way to a myriad of rebel armies active in the northeast.

The area is controlled by Arakan insurgent groups opposed to the military junta in Yangon. Intelligence officials in the region have confirmed the presence of sophisticated range of weapons with militant groups in the northeast, including surface-to-air missiles.

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