India steps up crackdown on Assam separatists
DIBRUGARH (updated on: January 15, 2007, 20:02 PST): Indian security forces have captured several key separatist guerrillas in a major counter-insurgency operation in the restive north-eastern state of Assam, an official said on Monday.
"We have made some very good catches in the ongoing military crackdown although we cannot divulge details of the operations at this stage," Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi told AFP.
"The operation is in full swing and we have had some significant results."
Some 20,000 combat soldiers and paramilitary personnel are currently engaged in the offensive against the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).
The group has been blamed for a recent wave of attacks on Hindi-speaking migrant workers in Assam. That violence killed 69 people earlier this month.
The rebels' capture follows a warning from the Indian army that operations against them would intensify.
India's largest paramilitary agency meanwhile has accused neighbouring Bangladesh of sheltering top ULFA commanders.
Assam army commander Major General N.C. Marwah told the NDTV television network there would be no let-up in the bid to force the ULFA to negotiate.
"We are going for very precise and very intensive operations against the ULFA," Marwah said in Guwahati, Assam's largest city.
"There will be helicopters, heli-borne assaults, you name it and we will use it as we are going all out about it," he said.
Another army commander said at least a dozen ULFA guerrillas were captured since the operation began on January 8.
Soldiers have to negotiate thick jungle in Assam and the adjoining state of Arunachal Pradesh to prosecute the offensive.
Assam chief minister Gogoi said the authorities had "some vital information from the captured militants and efforts are on to track down ULFA rebels that could be hiding in the jungles." "Some of the rebels might have crossed over to Myanmar where they have bases," Gogoi said.
Troops have set up camps in adjoining Arunachal Pradesh state to cut off ULFA rebels retreating into forests along the border with Myanmar.
The military says guerrillas use Arunachal as a transit point to reach training bases in military-ruled Myanmar, which has a porous border with India's north-east.
Gogoi said despite the security offensive, the government was ready to hold peace talks with the ULFA, which has been fighting for an independent homeland since 1979.
Indian premier Manmohan Singh is due to arrive in Assam on Tuesday to review the military offensive and meet the family members of those killed.
"The Prime Minister's visit is aimed at reassuring the people and instilling a sense of confidence among the Hindi-speaking migrant workers," Gogoi said.
Singh is scheduled to visit the village of Masaldhari Chapori in the eastern Tinsukia district, where 13 migrant workers are said to have been killed by the ULFA.