National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit faction) militants shot dead at least 76 adivasis, including women and children, at five different places in Assam last week. Later, the Army was called in to maintain law and order in the troubled areas. Police said the killings at Maitalubasti in Sonitpur district in northern Assam, bordering Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan. Twenty-three bodies were found in the area that is located inside the Pabhoi reserve forest. Minutes after the attacks at Maitalubasti, the militants shot dead three persons at Pak hriguri village in Kokrajhar district in western Assam, bordering West Bengal, police added. The militants also targeted Ultapani village in Kokrajhar district from where six bodies were found.
Two more villages were attacked in Sonitpur district. Ten people were found dead at Phulbari and six at Batasipur. All the five places fall under the jurisdiction of the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD). Most of the adivasis living in the region are from Chhotanagpur Plateau and central India.
Additional DGP (special branch, Assam Police) Pallab Bhattacharya said, “We are still trying to ascertain the number of casualties.The places where the killings took place are remote and close to the Bhutan border,” he added. On Monday, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit faction) had warned the government of retaliatory attacks if the security forces did not stop operations against its men. Bhattacharya said, “We had information that the outfit would carry out retaliatory attacks but it was difficult to pinpoint the locations.”
A source said, “The NDFB (Songbijit faction) might have targeted the adivasis suspecting them of passing on information about its cadre to police.” Meanwhile, the Army and security forces stepped up counter-insurgency operations against the militants amid reports of Assam police's failure to prevent the killings despite prior intelligence specifying date, time and location of the attacks.The state government insisted the intelligence inputs came too close to the attacks, allowing it little time to tighten security.
More than 5,000 adivasis and Bodos left their homes and took shelter in schools and churches in Sonitpur and affected district. Agriculture minister Nilamani Sen Deka, in Kokrajhar to oversee relief operations, said there were are about 3,000 inmates from both the communities in six relief camps in the district.
The National Investigation Agency will probe the killings, said Union home minister Rajnath Singh after a meeting with Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi. Singh, accompanied by MoS home Kiren Rijiju, took stock of the situation and said the massacre should be treated as an “act of terror.” “The Union home minister directed security forces to deal firmly with the outfit and treat it as a terrorist group,” a source said.
Defence PRO Lt Col S Newton said 10 Army columns, called in following a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gogoi, were deployed in the troubled areas of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Sonitpur and Udalguri districts.
“Special area domination patrols have been deployed. Senior Army officers are supervising the operations and helping the civil administration and Assam police,” he said. Aerial surveillance by Army helicopters are in service, he added. “We're going all out against the militants. I had a discussion with the Prime Minister and the Centre has directed the Army to take out the militants,“ said Gogoi. “The Centre has also sent us 55 companies of paramilitary forces. The militants have taken shelter in Bhutan and Myanmar and AP ,” he added.
The attacks followed less than three hours after chief minister Tarun Gogoi said his government would not go ahead with counter-insurgency operations despite threats from the NDFB (Songbijit faction). On Sunday , the outfit had lost two of its men during a joint operation by police and Army personnel inside the Chirang reserve forest near the Bhutan border. The security personnel had also seized a huge cache of arms and ammunition from the militants.
Flush out rebels, India tells Myanmar, Bhutan
One Country Has Assured Cooperation: Rajnath
India on Thursday asked Bhutan and Myanmar to help evict Indian militants, including the Bodo rebels who are believed to have bases there. Security forces scouring the area for NDFB (Songbijit) killers fear they might have slipped into Bhutan and Myanmar after the massacre of 76 adivasi villagers in Assam on Tuesday .
“One country has assured cooperation, and we are sure the other will also cooperate,“ said Union home minister Rajnath Singh, who is on a two-day visit here to assess the situation.
The leader of the Bodo group, I K Songbijit, is based in Kachin, Myanmar, and shares camps with the Paresh Baruah faction of Ulfa.
Shaken by the magnitude of the violence, the Centre has decided to change its stance towards militancy from a soft approach to a tough one. Singh made it clear the government will not bring the Songbijit faction to the peace process but act against it militarily. “I want to clarify that there will be no talks with such organizations but only action,“ Singh said before leaving for Delhi. “We do not want to talk to people who can hold a gun to a five-yearold girl's head and shoot her.“
Singh said external affairs minister Sushma Sawaraj spoke to the premiers of Bhutan and Myanmar. “She called me and said she had spoken to the premier of Myanmar for action,“ he said.
Singh and his deputy Ki ren Rijiju have both been assessing the situation in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar since Wednesday. Union tribal affairs minister Jual Oram, who has come here with Singh, has been asked to extend his stay.
There were some reports of the torching of houses by Bodo and adivasi villagers on Thursday.
The pilot of the chopper carrying Singh and chief minister Tarun Gogoi from Biswanath Chariali to Kokrajhar had to go for an emergency landing at an IAF base in Tezpur after the copter developed a technical snag mid-air. Within a couple of hours, another helicopter was flown in from Guwahati.
Bodo militants may have escaped to foreign country
Security forces scouring for National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) rebels fear they may have escaped to Bhutan and Myanmar. According to police, about 80 rebels carried out Tuesday's gruesome killings in Kokrajhar and Sonitpur districts. “Intelligence inputs suggest that the militants might have left behind their weapons to ensure a safe passage,“ a source said. “The NDFB had a base in Bhutan earlier, but they were driven out in 2003,“ said a senior Assam Police official. “The Bhutan government now says there are no Indian militants on its soil. We, however, have reports that militants do cross over when security forces step up measures against them.“ He said the NDFB-S's main base is in Myanmar.“It's easy for anyone to sneak into Arunachal Pradesh from Sonitpur district and then move to Myanmar through different routes. Some move from Arunachal to Nagaland,“ he said.