As Baksa crawls back to normal life with the arrest of five persons, including a woman, in connection with Friday’s killings, security agencies are worried that the district, one of the newest in the state, is fast becoming Assam’s killing fields.
In Guwahati, the state Home department has listed six reasons that make Baksa vulnerable. These include inaccessible jungles, including Manas National Park that is contiguous to Royal Manas National Park of Bhutan on the other side, shortage of police personnel on the ground, and presence of villagers inside forests.
“Baksa is Assam’s new killing fields. There’s hardly a week when you don’t get news of abduction, killing or a person going missing,” said Jamsher Ali, convenor of BTAD Citizens’ Forum. “At least 55 persons have been killed by militants this year, and all of them, barring one, were from the minority community,” added Ali.
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The worst killing took place at Khagrabari under Gobardhana police station on May 2 when a group of militants killed at least 40 people in a village, and set afire all the 56 houses there. While most of the dead bodies had to be fished out from the Beki river, seven persons, including three children, are still missing,” Ali said.
Last Friday, seven persons from Bogoriguri, a village in adjoining Barpeta district, had gone to Samthaibari to purchase lemons from Bodo villagers. They were abducted by National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-S) militants. The bullet-riddled bodies of four of them were recovered in the next two days; three others managed to escape.
“There was no immediate reason for targeting those vendors. What we have later found is that the top leadership of the NDFB(S) was unhappy that the cadres deployed in different districts had not carried out any action in the past few weeks. The group that was involved in Friday’s killing had also lost two grenades a few days ago. When they were pulled up, they found these vendors an easy target,” said L R Bishnoi, IGP, Bodoland districts.
The NDFB(S) is a break-away faction formed in 2012, and is believed to have a strength of 250-300 cadres, of which only 30 are deployed in Baksa. Assam Police estimates say that while 70 are active in Kokrajhar, there would be 60 in Chirang. Of the remainder, about 80 are spread out in Sonitpur and Karbi Anglong districts, and 60 to 70 are said to be at their training camp in Myanmar.
“The biggest problem is that the government has failed to seize the huge number of arms that these militants have with them,” said Hiteswar Barman, president of Sanmilita Jana-gosthiya Aikya-mancha, a platform of orgainsations claiming to represent non-Bodo groups.
According to Bishnoi, the NDFB(S) has 50 to 60 AK-series weapons, about 150 small weapons, five US-made MI-5 telescopic guns, about 100 grenades and a huge amount of ammunition.
“This year alone, the security forces have seized and recovered 13 AK-series rifles, apart from several pistols and revolvers,” Bishnoi informed.
Road and communication infrastructure in Baksa is poor, leading to difficulty in movement of the security forces. Several rivers and their numerous channels that flow down from Bhutan in the north further complicate the vehicular movement, thus giving an advantage to the militants on the run.
“Road communication is a problem here. Despite that we have been able to arrest and eliminate several militants,” claimed Bishnoi.