ULFA goes on a recruitment overdrive in Assam as outlawed group's cadre strength thins out
The cadres have been recruited over the past five months mostly from the Moran inhabited zone in Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and the western districts of Nalbari and Baksa.
The anti-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has gone on an overdrive to recruit new cadres in a bid to shore up its dwindling numbers.
The cadres have been recruited over the past five months mostly from the Moran inhabited zone in Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and the western districts of Nalbari and Baksa. They are being trained at a camp near Taga in Myanmar’s Hukwang Valley which is close to the Chindwin river. The exercise is being supervised by a senior functionary Nayan Medhi who is also a member of ULFA’s executive council.
Assam director general of police Mukesh Sahay was quoted by The Shillong Times and some Assamese local dailies as confirming the development on the sidelines of a meeting of the Unified Command at the 4 Corps headquarters of the army in Tezpur on 12 May. According to informed sources, the issue also came up for discussion at the meeting chaired by home minister Rajnath Singh with the director generals of police from the North East at the North Block on 16 May which also stressed the need to keep the security forces on high alert in the vulnerable zones along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh and India-Myanmar borders.
A police official claimed that three “linkmen” of the outfit who had helped in the recruitment have been identified and they would soon be apprehended.
All the new cadres would have to undergo a rigorous course of three months beginning with drills and political classes that shifts to combat tactics, ambushes and lessons on survival in harsh terrains as the training draws to a close. Taking part in operations comes at a later stage after continuous attachment to veteran units and acclimatisation of the routes.
ULFA’s strength and support base have vastly diminished in the past decade and especially after the group split in 2011 when a section of senior functionaries led by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa decided to engage in talks with the Centre. It is estimated that the strength of the anti-talks faction led by chief of staff Paresh Baruah is only around 250 scattered in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
It may be recalled that ULFA and three other groups including the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) had formed an alliance in 2015 for an effective campaign of independence for the North East and the contiguous Naga-inhabited region in Myanmar.
At least four deadly ambushes have since been carried out in the North East resulting in the death of several army and paramilitary personnel.
As many as eight separatist outfits from the North East have camps and training facilities in Myanmar’s Sagaing division that include six groups from Manipur.
Camps in the northern region of Sagaing division bordering Kachin and contiguous to Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh are under the effective control of NSCN(K) led by Naga rebel chief SS Khaplang. Last year Khaplang played a key role in forming the “Special Elite Unit” – an assault group of experienced cadres with the mandate to gather information and identify spots for operations against the security forces.
The attack on the Assam Rifles in December last year in Arunachal Pradesh is believed to have been carried out by this unit.
An overground ULFA functionary attributed the recruitment to the “deadlock” in the peace process between the government and the pro-talks group.
“Everybody had high expectations from the peace process but since it has not been able to produce any results, it is but natural that the boys would be attracted to the other side across the border,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Employment avenues in Assam and the other states of the North East are meager with the result that a vast number of young adults have been moving out to the different metropolises of the country every year in search of jobs. Those who are left behind are usually targeted for recruitment by militant outfits.
The ongoing training in Hukwang Valley is as much an indication of the protection enjoyed by ULFA and the other groups in Myanmar as the continuous rebuff by the Myanmarese army of New Delhi’s repeated pleas to dismantle the rebel bases.
The Myanmarese government has never accepted that the North East militants have been operating out of camps from its territory. The chances of a crackdown have further receded after the army and NSCN(K) clinched a ceasefire agreement in 2012 after years of an informal pact. The army is already engaged in war in Kachin and Shan States and would not prefer to open a hostile front with the Nagas.
The author is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India’s Most Wanted Men.
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