Separatist terror

Published : Sep 12, 2003 00:00 IST

The bodies of people who were shot dead by All Tripura Tiger Force members at Kamalnagar village in West Tripura district on August 14. -

The bodies of people who were shot dead by All Tripura Tiger Force members at Kamalnagar village in West Tripura district on August 14. -

Insurgents in the northeastern States, operating from the Bangladeshi side of the border, unleash terror in Tripura, Manipur and Assam on the eve of Independence Day.

FOR several years now, the northeastern States have witnessed much bloodletting in the run-up to Independence Day celebrations. This year was no exception. On August 14, while 32 people were killed in Tripura by the outlawed All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), suspected United National Liberation Front (UNLF) rebels blew up a bus and killed six people near Imphal in Manipur. On the same day, militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) ambushed an Assam Rifles convoy near Jagun in Assam. The convoy was heading for Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh, where the Naga militant group has camps. On August 11, the ATTF struck with brute force, blowing up seven members of a police team travelling in a truck near the Tripura capital, Agartala. After the explosion, the militants took away three revolvers and four self-loading rifles. Several militant outfits operating in the northeastern States had called for a boycott of Independence Day functions and threatened to strike at the security forces and vital installations.

What happened in Tripura on the night before August 15 is evidently a part of the militants' sinister programme of annihilating non-tribal people living in the tribal-dominated regions of the State. In its bid to oust all post-1949 non-tribal settlers in the State, the ATTF carried out simultaneous attacks at two Bengali-dominated villages in the Khowai subdivision of West Tripura, killing 32 people, including three children and five women. Militants gunned down 14 villagers at Kamalnagar and 18 at Baralunga, about 50 km from Agartala, within half an hour from 9-45 p.m. In similar operations in May, the ATTF and the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) had killed 30 Bengali villagers.

Disturbingly, there is a report that the militants come from across the Bangladesh border and return with impunity after completing their job. Villagers of Baralunga said that after the massacre, the tribal militants had returned to their base in Bangladesh.

Like those of several other northeastern States, Tripura's problem is compounded by its long, porous border with Bangladesh. The latest killings once again exposed the rebels' strategy of using some areas across the border as training camps and hideouts. Many villages in Tripura share a border with Bangladesh, which surrounds the State on three sides and is barely demarcated. The ATTF and NLFT insurgents run a number of training and operation camps across the border in Bangladesh, which are visible from the Indian side. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar recently put the number of such camps at close to 90. What is worrying the villagers more is the fact that the armed Bangladeshi nationals, supposed to be fundamentalists, are operating jointly with the insurgents on the other side of the international border.

Manik Sarkar, during his visit to New Delhi on the eve of Independence Day, urged the Centre to declare insurgency a national problem. He asked the Centre to put "pressure" on Dhaka to dismantle the terrorist camps from its soil. "Dhaka should hand over the ultras to India," he said. Sarkar sought an increase in the number of Border Security Force (BSF) battalions posted in the State and suggested that the government fence the entire Indo-Bangladesh border to prevent militants from taking shelter in the neighbouring country. "It is impossible for a small State like Tripura to control militancy on its own," Sarkar said.

Manik Sarkar told Frontline that underground insurgent groups such as the NLFT and the ATTF were among the several rebel groups from the region that had set up camps in Bangladesh. He accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh of colluding with the militants in northeastern India to spread terror and create ethnic tension in the region. The Chief Minister said: "It is necessary to break the network of the terrorist groups of the region. I have positive proof that both the Isaac-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the NSCN are fomenting trouble in the northeastern States, by violating the ground rules under the ceasefire agreement between the Centre and the underground outfits. The Centre should ensure that both factions of the NSCN observe the ceasefire rules outside Nagaland as well. Supported by the NSCN factions, the NLFT and the ATTF have intensified their subversive activities across the State."

Since the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front assumed power for the fifth time in February, the militants seem to have made it a point to target CPI(M) leaders and supporters in order to spread the message of terror and destabilise the government. CPI(M) leaders pointed out that within six months of the last Assembly polls, 97 CPI(M) workers and supporters had been killed by extremist outfits. Even supporters of the CPI(M) among the tribal people were not spared. This only shows how desperate the NLFT has become after its political wing, the Indigenous National Party of Tripura (INPT), managed to secure only five seats out of the 20 reserved for the tribal people.

It has been repeatedly alleged by the ruling Left Front that the communally tainted ATTF and NLFT are involved in secessionist activities and are hell bent on ousting non-tribal people settled in the hilly region of the State. The Left Front government has drawn the attention of the Centre to such acts of terrorism several times. The Centre has no reason to ignore the fact. Tripura has been a virtual killing field since the 1960s. Insurgency is not the problem of the ruling party alone, with the Opposition Congress(I), strangely enough, choosing to side with the INPT. In the last Assembly elections there was an electoral alliance between the two.

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