Updated: April 25, 2021 5:07:49 am
Four days after they were abducted by the United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I), two of the three Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) employees have been rescued by a joint team of security forces from the Mon district of Nagaland near the India-Myanmar border, authorities confirmed on Saturday morning.
“The rescue operation was jointly done by the Indian Army, Assam Rifles and Nagaland Police, with intelligence inputs from the Assam Police and central agencies. We have been working in total synergy,” Assam DGP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta told the Indian Express. One AK-47 rifle was recovered from the site.
The two rescued employees have been identified as Mohini Mohan Gogoi and Alakesh Saikia. “The search for the third, Retul Saikia, is underway. We suspect the ULFA-I still has him,” added Mahanta.
However, on Saturday evening, ULFA-I released a statement saying that Retul Saikia was not in their custody and that they suspect he had either been killed in gunfire by the state security forces or kept in hiding by them.
The statement, signed by the outfit’s “publicity cell” member Rumel Asom, said that an encounter between ULFA-I cadres and the armed forces personnel led by the Indian Army’s 73rd Brigade, 35th Assam Rifles and Nagaland Police took place between 10pm and 2.30am on Friday.
“Following that, keeping in mind the safety of the three ONGC employees, our members released them in a healthy condition among the people of Tokok Singkhu village under Nagaland’s Mon district and then proceeded to their destination,” the statement said.
It added: “Despite knowing that the joint armed forces opened fire in the area after some time to discredit the image of the ULFA-I in the eyes of the public. While the army and police have released a statement about two employees, Alakesh Saikia and Mohini Mohan Gogoi, there is no mention of Retul Saikia. That is why we suspect he has either been killed by the bullets of the forces, or they have kept him in hiding.”
DGP Mahanta rubbished these allegations. “We don’t give any credence to what the ULFA-I says. They keep saying all sorts of things — it has been their way right from the go. Right now, the operations are underway to rescue Retul at the earliest,” he said.
ULFA-I’s statement also blamed ONGC for the entire incident, describing them as a “bohiragot” (outsider) company. It threatened the company to be ready to face dire consequences in the coming days.
On Friday evening, the Assam Police said in a statement that the ULFA-I was responsible for the abduction that happened on Wednesday morning. The three, who worked in the production department and stayed at the ONGC Colony in Sivasagar, were kidnapped by two armed men in an ONGC ambulance. The vehicle was later found abandoned near the Nimonagarh jungles, close to the Assam-Nagaland border.
The statement added that police have arrested “14 linkmen and sympathisers who were helping the banned outfit directly or indirectly.”
Hemanta Gogoi, the father of Mohini Mohan Gogoi, said that the last four days had been an ordeal and he was relieved to learn that his son had been rescued. “We barely slept. Finally, the ordeal is over. But as relieved as I am, I feel terrible that all three boys have not been rescued. I am hoping and praying that Retul is rescued at the earliest because I can understand what his parents must be going through right now,” he said.
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