Indian Assam insurgents eye south Bhutan bases

Oct. 2, 2012 at 9:01 AM
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NEW DELHI, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Battered by Indian military operations, Assamese insurgents are relocating to Bhutan.

Following major Indian military offensives, the United Liberation Front of Asom Paresh Barua-led faction is relocating its base of operations to the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan's southern regions, where densely forested region obscures activities.

The region's dense vegetation cover provides geographical contiguity and proximity to the insurgents to the jungles of India's eastern Assam province. Since 2003 the Indian military has operated in conjunction with the Bhutanese army in pressing ULFA guerrillas, beginning with Operation "All Clear," the Hindustan Times reported.

The operation was launched because of military reports that ULFA, along with several other insurgent groups from northeastern India, established up to 30 guerrilla camps in southern Bhutan's Samdrup Jongkhar district, capable of sustaining nearly 3,500 insurgents. Nine years of subsequent joint military operations have failed to quell the insurgency.

ULFA's leadership is split with Arabinda Rajkhowa leading a faction negotiating with the Indian government, while Paresh Barua heads a faction that remains steadfastly opposed to talks with New Delhi unless sovereignty for Assam is also discussed.

Indian intelligence agencies report that that Barua controls hundreds of heavily armed fighters ULFA and divides his time between ULFA camps on the China-Myanmar border and in Myanmar's Sagaing province, while he reportedly also has close connections to China's intelligence agencies.

But defeating ULFA isn't solely a military issue. Recent confessions by hardcore ULFA cadres Rongmon Gogoi, Mridul Moran and Rocket Syam, arrested by Indian forces in Arunachal Pradesh, reportedly claim the coal industry of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya was contributing to ULFA's revenues, along with the province's oil and tea sectors, security sources speaking on condition of anonymity said.

Gogoi, in his interview, specifically named a mining company that was directly paying ULFA each quarter, the reports said.

Stating that ULFA was desperate for money to continue its insurgency, security sources said that to stanch the flow of funds to the insurgents, Arunachal Pradesh police were exploring the possibility of instituting legal actions against companies and individuals paying money to ULFA and other militant outfits in India's northeast.

ULFA has been battling Indian authorities for an independent Assamese state since 1979. The problem isn't contained to India. Indian intelligence analysts say that starting in the mid-1980s ULFA established links with Pakistan's Inter -Services Intelligence unit as well as the Afghan mujahedin fighting the Soviet occupation, with at least 200 ULFA receiving training in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Indian intelligence says it also uncovered evidence that, beginning in 1989, Bangladesh's Defense Forces Intelligence trained ULFA cadres in more than a dozen camps in Bangladesh's Sylhet district. That year cooperation between various northwestern India terrorist groups and foreign militant organizations was formalized by the formation of the Indo-Burmese Revolutionary Front.

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