ULFA welcomes India, Pakistan cricket teams

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS

Guwahati : The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) Saturday welcomed the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams for the first ODI here and said there was no need for any security concerns as the outfit respects games and sports.

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“We heartily welcome the two cricket teams who have shown their abilities in the international sporting arena. We would like to assure that there is no need for any suspicion and security concerns from us with regard to the match,” ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa said in a statement e-mailed to IANS.

On Friday, the Assam Cricket Association (ACA) appealed to the ULFA through front-page advertisements in local dailies, seeking support for smooth conduct of the India-Pakistan ODI to be played at the Nehru Stadium here Monday.

In the advertisement, ACA secretary Bikash Baruah urged the ULFA not to create any trouble during the ODI and sought the outfit’s support and cooperation for holding the match peacefully.

In response, the ULFA leader said: “We appeal to all sections of the society to ensure the match passes off peacefully and smoothly.”

There were angry reactions to the ACA’s appeal with views being expressed that it should not have sought support from a banned outfit.

“The appeal by the ACA was issued on their own although there is no specific intelligence input about any threats by the ULFA during the ODI,” Guwahati district magistrate Avinash Joshi told IANS.

“No comments please,” a senior ACA official said when asked if the appeal was made under pressure from the ULFA or some threats being received from the outfit.

More than 2,000 police and paramilitary troopers have already been deployed in Guwahati, Assam’s main city, ahead of Monday’s match.

“We have divided the city into seven security zones with a superintendent of police entrusted with the security of the stadium,” Surendra Kumar, senior superintendent of police of Guwahati city, said.

Policemen on horsebacks and special commandos on motorcycles were deployed around the stadium and other vantage points as part of intensified security measures.

“The two city hotels where the teams are going to stay have been thoroughly screened,” the police official said.

The sprawling Nehru stadium complex has been turned into a virtual fortress with security personnel taking positions, some even in high-rise buildings flanking the park.


Weather gods smiling on first India-Pakistan ODI

The last ODI between India and England scheduled here in April last year was abandoned without a single ball bowled. Police had to use teargas to disperse angry spectators who went on a rampage setting ablaze galleries after the match was called off due to bad weather.

But this time the weather conditions are quite satisfactory with no hint of rain. The regional meteorological centre here said there was little chance of bad weather affecting Monday’s match.

“I was here as a match referee the last time as well. I hope the rain god does not interfere and let us hope to get a good match,” Sri Lanka’s Roshan Mahanama told IANS.


More passes than seats in press box

Those managing the media during Monday’s ODI are in for a bad time. The press box can accommodate 135 journalists, but passes have been issued for more.

Some 32 Pakistani journalists, all from print media, are expected to cover the match. The organisers can provide just 65 points with Internet connections for laptops.

“We are trying our best with the limited infrastructure available to us,” ACA’s media coordinator Premadhar Sharma said.


Roads sealed off

The two teams arrive in Guwahati Sunday afternoon and will head to their hotels straightaway.

The 26-km route from the airport to the city will be blocked to normal traffic when the teams make their journey to their hotels.

“We have decided to keep the roads free entirely for security reasons,” a senior police official said.