Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s announcement this month that he wanted New Delhi to use its influence on the new regime in Bangladesh to demolish the camps of the militant groups of Assam comes at a time when the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has apparently developed a close alliance with the ISI,HuJI and other Islamic forces active in the neighbouring country.
Gogoi wants External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to not only take up the issue with the new Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,but also exert pressure on her government to flush out the militants. “The ULFA and NDFB (National Democratic Front of Bodoland) among themselves have between 15 and 16 camps in Bangladesh,six of which are really big ones. There are at least 300 militants belonging to the two outfits from Assam. We want these camps to be demolished and the militants flushed out as was done in Bhutan four years ago,” Gogoi said.
These camps,official sources said,are mostly located in the districts of Chittagong,Moulavibazar,Rangamati,Khagrachari and Sherpur. In addition,a number of transit camps of the two outfits keep
shifting locations close to the Indo-Bangladesh border,especially adjoining the Garo Hills in Meghalaya and Dhubri district in Assam.
According to Gogoi,at least 10 top ULFA leaders are currently in Bangladesh,including its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and commander-in-chief Paresh Barua. Also in the neighbouring country is ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia who has been lodged in a jail in Dhaka since 1996 and has recently sought asylum outside Bangladesh in view of the changing political scenario there. NDFB chairman Ranjan Daimary,too,is said to be in Bangladesh.
At a chief ministers’ conference on external security,held on January 6 in New Delhi,Gogoi expressed his concern about insurgent groups functioning in collusions with the ISI of Pakistan,HuJI and other jehadi groups.
“These insurgent groups of the Northeast are backed by foreign forces. Even today,major insurgent groups have their safe haven in Bangladesh and Myanmar. Because of insurgent groups within the state,it also becomes easy for forces inimical to the interest of the country like HuJI,Harkat ul -Mujahideen,ISI etc,to perpetuate offences through them,” the Chief Minister had said.
The Government of Assam has been insisting that the serial blasts of October 30,2008,which left 90 persons dead in Guwahati and three other towns in the state,were caused by local insurgent groups who had close ties with “forces inimical to India”.
Intelligence reports say the ISI has provided ULFA cadres with arms training,funds,weapons and ammunition,in addition to hiding places. Training was allegedly imparted at camps in Pakistan,Bangladesh and Bhutan. At least 300 ULFA cadres were also trained at Rawalpindi and other locations in Pakistan.
The training included ‘courses’ in the use of rocket launchers,explosives and assault weapons. Paresh Barua has been regularly visiting Karachi since 1992-93,and is also reported to have met Osama bin Laden in 1996 during one such visit.
Meanwhile,intelligence agencies here said that the ULFA commander-in-chief has been shifting residence in the past few months following the changing political equations in Bangladesh. Barua,they add,has been living in a house provided by the Bangladesh Army instead of his own apartment at Gulistan Colony in Dhaka.
ULFA is also engaged in a number of income-generating projects in Bangladesh. Reports say it has
set up a number of firms in Dhaka,which include consultancy companies and soft drink units. Besides,it is also reported to own three hotels,a private clinic,and two motor driving schools in the Bangladesh capital. Paresh Barua himself is reported to personally own or have controlling interest in several businesses in Bangladesh,
including a tannery,a chain of departmental stores,garment factories,travel agencies,shrimp trawlers and investment companies.