ULFA facing reverses, Assam agog with truce rumours

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS,

Guwahati : Assam’s frontline separatist group is facing severe reverses at the hands of security forces in recent months triggering speculation that the group’s key strike force, that has its headquarters in Myanmar, is considering a ceasefire with authorities.

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“In the past 10 days alone, 17 militants from the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) have been killed in gunfights with security forces. The group’s morale is certainly down,” an Assam Police intelligence official told IANS on customary condition of anonymity.

Early Tuesday, two ULFA rebels were killed in a shootout with soldiers of the 11 Sikh Regiment at Banderkhati Khamti village in Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh, a security official said.

Ten kgs of explosives, besides a pistol and a revolver, were recovered from the slain militants.

ULFA rebels use the adjoining Arunachal Pradesh state both as staging areas and stopovers during transit to its bases in Myanmar. The group’s key strike unit called the 28th battallion or the ‘Kashmir Camp’, is based in Myanmar.

Since Monday, the state has been agog with rumours that the potent 28th battalion of the ULFA, active in the eastern Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar districts, was considering a truce with the state authorities.

Throughout the day Monday, journalists were in touch with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who heads the Unified Command of the army, police and the paramilitary in the state, on news of the truce.

“We cannot say anything now. Talks about a truce were held in the past too,” Gogoi told reporters.

However, Jiten Dutta, the self-styled commanader of the ULFA’s 28th battalion, denied plans to enter into a ceasefire with the government.

“This is nothing but a malicious propaganda to defame the outfit and create confusion,” Dutta told a local TV channel over telephone.

The Assam government, meanwhile, has sought a detailed report on the circumstances leading to the shooting down of four ULFA militants Sunday in the eastern Sivasagar district.

Rights groups and locals have alleged that army troopers have shot the rebels after they were captured.

A temporary ceasefire between the ULFA and the government was called off in September 2006 after authorities said the rebels utilized the truce to regroup. There has been no progress in the failed attempt since then to bring the ULFA and the government for peace talks.