Indian soldiers launch massive crackdown on separatist rebels
GUWAHATI: Indian soldiers have launched a massive crackdown on up to 100 separatist rebels holed up inside a thick forest in the north eastern state of Assam, officials said Wednesday.
An army spokesman said the offensive began Tuesday and was aimed at flushing out the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) guerrillas from the dense jungles of Lakhipathar in eastern Assam, 570 kilometres (353 miles) from the state capital Guwahati. “This is perhaps the biggest ever single counter-insurgency operation in Assam in the past decade,” an army commander told AFP requesting anonymity.
Intelligence reports say a large group of heavily armed ULFA rebels have entered Assam from their bases in the neighbouring kingdom of Bhutan to carry out hit-and-run guerrilla strikes on federal soldiers. “More than 1,000 army, police, and paramilitary commandos have started combing the forest, supported by helicopters carrying out aerial surveillance of the area to prevent the ULFA militants from escaping,” a senior Assam police official said.
“If required, air raids will be launched on the ULFA bases inside Lakhipathar,” the army commander added. “We are confident the ULFA militants cannot escape the forest with our troops blocking all entry and exit routes.”
Lakhipathar was previously the ULFA headquarters but the militants were forced to abandon the forests after an Indian army offensive in 1990 codenamed Operation Bajrang. On Monday, nine soldiers were injured in an ambush in eastern Assam by the ULFA, while the same group attacked an oil installation in the area with rocket propelled grenades, besides killing two paramilitary soldiers. The ULFA, fighting for an independent homeland in Assam, has warned of more attacks on federal troops in the state.
“Recently we have seen the Indian army killing some of our cadres like cats and dogs. We cannot remain silent and will launch counter-attacks with full vigour,” ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah was quoted as saying by vernacular Assamese language newspapers Wednesday. —AFP