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Peace at a premium

Print edition : Nov 05, 2004 T+T-

The eruption of extremist violence in the northeastern region despite accords and ceasefire agreements turns the needle of suspicion towards "the foreign hand".

in Guwahati

IN early October, extremist violence claimed more than 100 lives in the northeastern region. On October 2, at least 47 persons were killed and about 100 injured as militants triggered powerful blasts and resorted to indiscriminate firing in various parts of Assam and Nagaland. Saboteurs triggered two blasts in Nagaland, one at the Dimapur railway station and another at the adjacent Hong Kong market, claiming 36 lives and injuring more than 40 persons. In Assam, suspected militants of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) launched simultaneous strikes in various parts of the State killing 11 persons and injuring more than 40 persons.

Bomb blasts and indiscriminate firing continued in Assam for the next four days. At least 53 people, including children and women, were killed in 17 incidents. The ULFA claimed responsibility for five incidents. Although the NDFB has not claimed responsibility, police said that the militant outfit was behind some of the incidents.

The twin blasts in Dimapur, which shattered the peaceful atmosphere prevailing in Nagaland for the past seven years after the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang) signed a ceasefire agreement with the Centre, baffled intelligence officials. A Special Investigation Team constituted by the Neiphiu Rio-led State government has not made much progress. Indications are that militant groups from neighbouring States may have triggered the blasts. The NSCN (I-M) announced a reward of Rs.5 lakhs to anyone who would provide information about the culprits.

There is a spurt in extremist violence in the region. Sine 1991 more than 3,000 civilians, 2,000 militants and 769 security personnel have been killed in Assam alone in insurgent attacks and counter-insurgency operations. During the same period, more then 12,000 militants surrendered. However, recruitment by militant groups continues in Assam and other militancy-affected northeastern States.

SOON after the incidents, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil rushed to the region and called for coordinated action by the northeastern States to counter insurgency. He also suggested the appointment of a nodal officer by each State to ensure regular coordination and sharing of intelligence.

Close on the heels of Shivraj Patil's visit, the Union Home Ministry organised a conference of police chiefs of the northeastern States and West Bengal in Guwahati on October 15 and 16. Senior officials of the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the Army and the Central paramilitary forces also attended the conference. It discussed the challenges posed by foreign intelligence agencies instigating militant outfits of the region to indulge in violence and ways to stop militants from carrying out hit-and-run operations from their camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar. Addressing the conference, N.C. Padhi, Special Director, Intelligence Bureau, called for optimal utilisation of the resources by police forces of the region and the security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi stressed the need for New Delhi to mount diplomatic pressure on Bangladesh and Myanmar to demolish the camps of northeastern militants on their soil.

The conference was preceded by a meeting of intelligence chiefs of the region at the Assam Police headquarters on October 14. It worked out an action plan to meet the challenges posed by foreign agencies.

The night before the conference, NDFB president D.R. Nabla alias Ranjan Daimari wrote a letter to the Assam government declaring a ceasefire for a period of six months in response to an offer made by Tarun Gogoi on September 30. The NDFB chief had earlier made the offer on October 8 through the media. But Gogoi, while welcoming the gesture as a positive development, did not reciprocate and decided to wait until the State government received a formal communique.

On the sidelines of the conference, Gogoi told mediapersons that the State government would respond to the NDFB's offer. He said that the Centre was to decide on signing a formal ceasefire agreement, framing of ground rules and other details.

THE NDFB's ceasefire offer has added a new dimension to the security situation in Assam. Now the Central and the State governments would have to ensure that negotiations with the outfit did not lead to the alienation of the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), a rival faction of the NDFB with which they signed an accord on February 10, 2003 (Frontline, March 14, 2003). The accord paved the way for the creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), an administrative body formed under the amended provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The accord also had the backing of influential Bodo organisations such as the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU).

Urkhao Gwra Brahma, former ABSU president and current member of the Rajya Sabha, insisted that the majority of the Bodo people's concerns were settled with the signing of the Bodo Accord. He said that the accord on such issues should not be disturbed while holding negotiations with the NDFB.

ABSU and former BLT leaders welcomed the NDFB's ceasefire offer and expressed the hope that it would bring permanent peace in Bodo-dominated areas. Brahma, however, pointed out that the NDFB has been fighting for a "sovereign Bodoland" which was not feasible. He urged the group to spell out the issues it would raise during negotiations with the Centre. "If the ceasefire is not translated into meaningful dialogue, it would not solve any problem," Brahma added.

ABSU and BTC leaders took out a massive rally in Kokrajhar to condemn the killings by NDFB. It was also a display of the support they still enjoyed among the Bodo masses and conveyed a clear message to the Centre and State governments that any attempt to override the BTC in the negotiations would not be accepted.

"The BTC is a constitutional body which has the backing of 99 per cent of Bodo people and all leading Bodo organisations. Any attempt by the government to arrive at a solution in the negotiation with the NDFB without taking into confidence the people at the helm of affairs of this constitutional body will create a new problem," Brahma cautioned.