ULFA eyeing China for shelter, commander in China-Myanmar border

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS,

Guwahati : The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is now looking to China for shelter following mounting pressure from Myanmar and Bangladesh with the outfit’s top commander Paresh Baruah now believed to be somewhere near the Myanmar-China border scouting for help to relocate its bases, intelligence officials said.

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Police and intelligence officials said there could be up to 50 ULFA militants now holed up in China’s Yunnan Province led by its ‘Lt’ Partha Jyoti Gogoi.

“We also have a report that ULFA’s commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah is now in a temporary base of the outfit located somewhere along the Myanmar-China border after he sneaked into the region from his permanent base in Bangladesh,” a senior intelligence official said on customary conditions of anonymity.

“ULFA is facing the heat from both Bangladesh and Myanmar in recent months and that could be the reason for the outfit to think of alternative bases,” the official said.

ULFA, a rebel group fighting for an independent homeland in Assam, has, of late, been facing heavy reverses – more than 100 rebels have been killed in anti-insurgency operations, while the outfit suffered a major setback in June after two of its potent striking units, the Alpha and the Charlie companies of the 28th battalion, declared a unilateral ceasefire with the government.

“Reports of ULFA setting up bases in China’s Yunnan Province cannot be ruled out given the fact that the outfit’s relation with most of the neighbouring countries is good,” Prabal Neog, pro-talk leader and former commander of ULFA’s 28th battalion, told IANS.

The ULFA team in China, led by Gogoi, is apparently being patronised by the Kachin National Organization (KNO), an ethnic armed group of Myanmar now having some bases in the Yunnan Province. Most of the 50 member ULFA rebels are from eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district.

“We had bases in Bhutan and Bangladesh, we had been to Nepal before, and then the Pakistani links are well known. In Myanmar we have our main camps and bases and so having links with China is definitely not impossible,” Neog said.

ULFA’s China linkages are, however, not new, but such things were always kept very secret. Paresh Baruah visited China in the 1980s, while ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa put out an appeal to the Chinese leadership on Dec 25, 2003 to provide safe passage to the rebels from Bhutan for temporary shelter in China.

Rajkhowa in his fax communication to the Chinese leadership said: “We have come under massive attack of Indo-Bhutan joint forces and our combatants have been forced to retreat up to the Sino-Bhutan border due to all out air and artillery campaigns”.

Beijing, however, turned down ULFA’s appeal.

“Logistically speaking it would have no impact on their military campaign by setting up bases in China as the distance would be immense from the Yunnan Province to Assam, probably about 40 to 50 days of trekking,” said Sunil Nath, a well-known writer and former publicity chief of the ULFA.

Nath surrendered before the authorities in 1991.

It is not that China or sources in China have always maintained a distance from Indian separatists. Indian insurgents had not only visited China in the past for help, but had received assistance from sources within the country.

Leader of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) Thuingaleng Muivah is on record having said the Naga rebels had earlier obtained arms from China.

“More than anything else, it would be a major boost to ULFA’s sagging morale if they manage to set up bases in China. They want to send a message probably that they can extend their base to as far as China,” said Wasbir Hussain, director of the Centre for Development and Peace Studies, a Guwahati-based think-tank.