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Assam: Remaining Sparks

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Assam: Remaining Sparks

Nijeesh N. Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

#Assam, # Remaining Sparks

In one of the worst terrorist attack on the civilians in the recent history of Assam, terrorists of the I.K. Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-IKS) opened indiscriminate fire at a crowded weekly market, Balajan Tiniali Weekly (Friday) Market in Kokrajhar District on August 5, 2016, killing 14 persons, including two women, and injuring another 20. According to eyewitnesses, there were four to five terrorists in military fatigues, armed with sophisticated weapons, who fired at the crowd in the market at around 11.30 am. The terrorists also lobbed grenades at shops, destroying at least six. Personnel of the 3rd Rajput Regiment based in Kokrajhar, who were passing through the market, started retaliatory firing, killing one terrorist, while the others managed to escape. One AK-57, 2 magazines, one grenade, 47 rounds of ammunition, 3 bags with clothes, one mobile and 2 SIM cards were recovered from the spot.

Confirming the attack as handiwork of NDFB-IKS, Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), L.R. Bishnoi disclosed that the mobile SIMs recovered had earlier been used by NDFB-IKS leader Mada, a 'self-styled commander' of the outfit. The attack was carried out by the militant group with a view to create terror among people for extortion and also to divert the attention of the Security Forces (SFs) from on-going operations against the rebel group, he added. He confirmed that, those killed in the attack included six Bodos, four Muslims, and one each of the Nath (an Assamese caste), Adivasi (tribal) and Bengali communities. The identity of one civilian, who succumbed to his injuries on August 6, 2016, is yet to be confirmed.

Assam Director General of Police (DGP) Mukesh Sahay also confirmed the NDFB-IKS link, noting, "The style of operation also points to NDFB-Songbijit. We have launched counter-operations to nab the militant(s). Situation in the area is under control."

However, NDFB-IKS denied its involvement in the incident. In a statement issued to some media houses in Kokrajhar, NDFB-IKS 'general secretary' B.R. Ferenga stated; "We condemn the allegation by the Assam police against the NDFB of being involved in the attack at Balajan Tiniali. Our organisation is not at all involved in this."

NDFB-IKS has, in fact, been facing serious setbacks over the past months, and has also targeted Bodos, their own core constituency, among others, in a desperate tactic to distract SFs and divert their attention towards jihadi outfits, which have also come to pose a significant security threat in the State.

The August 5, 2016, incident was the worst attack on civilians in the State after theDecember 23, 2014, massacrein which at least 69 Adivasis were killed by NDFB-IKS militants in Sonitpur, Kokrajhar and Chirang Districts under the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD). Only one major incident (involving three or more fatalities) has been reported with civilian fatalities between December 23, 2014, and August 5, 2016; on April 4, 2016, at least three persons were killed and over twenty were injured in a powerful grenade attack by the Independent faction of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I) at Dudhnoi in Goalpara District. Significantly, the number of civilians killed through 2015 (10) was the lowest since 1992.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), from December 24, 2014 to August 4, 2016, a total of 16 civilians were killed in Assam in connection with militancy, of which only two civilian fatalities in two incidents (in one of which SFs were targeted) had been attributed to the NDFB-IKS.

However, since its formation on November 20, 2012, NDFB-IKS had emerged as one of the most violent militant group in Assam. Out of 221 civilian fatalities in the State between November 20, 2012, and December 23, 2014, NDFB-IKS has been responsible for 140.

SFs launched 'Operation All-Out' to eliminate NDFB-IKS militants from the State after the December 23, 2014 massacre. The operation, in which the Army, Paramilitary Forces and State Police have worked together, with support from the Indian Air Force, is still on. According to a January 1, 2016, report during the period between 26.12.2014 and 31.12.2015, at least 31 militants have been killed and over 766 militants and linkmen have been arrested under the Operation. Although no further official data is available, according to the SATP database, another 12 NDFB-IKS militants have been killed and 110 militants have been arrested since January 1, 2016 (all data till August 5, 2016).

According to August 6, 2016, report, the estimated strength of NDFB-IKS currently stands at around 150 cadres, down from 300 to 400 a couple of years ago. The continuous crackdown by the SFs including the National Investigation Agency (NIA), State Police and Army, has hit the militant outfit hard over the past year-and-a-half.

Some recent incidents involving NDFB-IKS include:

July 17, 2016: Two NDFB-IKS militants, identified as Ritu Basumatary aka B. Rugungsha and Rahul Basumatary aka B. Rakhao were killed in an encounter at Khalasi and Saralpara in Ultapani, near the Indo-Bhutan border in Kokrajhar District. Two 7.65 mm pistols, five 7.65 mm live rounds, two hand grenades, one AK-47 magazine, dry rations, cash, medicines, two letter pads of NDFB-IKS, toiletries and other materials were recovered from the area.

July 16, 2016: An NDFB-IKS militant, identified as Sudem Borgoyary aka Gorom was killed in SF operations while other cadres managed to escape. Two pistols, two grenades, ammunitions, cash, an extortion note, a mobile phone, one solar panel, rice, pulses and medicines were recovered from the spot.

June 24, 2016: Two NDFB-IKS cadres, identified as Jwngsar Basumatary akaLaudum and Phungkha Narzary, were killed in an encounter with SFs in the Jharbari area under the Serfanguri Police Station in Kokrajhar District. The cadres opened fire on the operational party first and the party retaliated, killing two. Two 7.65mm pistols, five rounds of ammunition and four fired cases of 7.65mm pistols, seven AK-47 fired cases, two Chinese grenades and a backpack were recovered from the slain militants.

According to a July 22, 2016, report fighting with their backs to the wall with depleting cadre strength due to relentless SF action, Bodo militants threatened to target NIA's officers and their families. In a direction issued to its cadres, NDFB-IKS leaders have cadres to track NIA officers even in the national capital (New Delhi) and strike at the right opportunity. Officials disclosed that the NDFB-IKS threat is the result of its frustration after 86 of its cadres were arrested in the last two to three years from Assam, out of which 63 have been charge-sheeted. A senior commander of the militant outfit, Pradip Brahma aka Pwler, was recently sentenced to life imprisonment by a Guwahati court.

Though, NDFB-IKS' operational capacity has been sharply diminished as a result of the elimination of a large number of its low- and mid-level cadres, the top leadership is relatively safe in Myanmar and in jungles along the Indo-Bhutan border. Intelligence inputs also indicates that there are growing rumblings of discontent within the group, as its 'chief' and founder, Ingi Kathar Songbijit is under pressure to make way for 'general secretary' B. Saoraigwra. Songbijit's current status is unclear. According to information available with security agencies, Saoraigwra is believed to be hiding in the Manas National Park, a 950 square kilometer wildlife sanctuary bordering Bhutan; while Songbijit is reportedly in Myanmar. Other important leaders of the outfit, including B. Bidai, are believed to be camping along the India-Bhutan border.

While, most militant outfits in India's Northeast are now in negotiations or under ceasefire agreements with the Government, NDFB-IKS and ULFA-I are not part of any peace process. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju stated in theRajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) on July 27, 2016, "there is no question of talks with National Democratic Front of Bodoland (S) as it was involved in an incident in December 2014 in which innocent people were killed." However the Minister emphasised that the Government is open to talks with all insurgent groups which are "sincere" in their intention to give up arms and join the mainstream. Further, he disclosed, the Centre and the Assam Governments had entered into Suspension of Operations (SoP) agreements with certain insurgent groups, including the Progressive faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-P) and the Ranjan Daimary faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-RD) among others.

The SFs have been successful in beating back NDFB-IKS militancy, but the group's residual capacities to execute indiscriminate attacks against soft targets across the sprawling Assam State, particularly the over 27,000 square kilometers that lie within the BTAD areas, can sow terror in the civilian population, feeding the group's extortion networks. The recent attack and these surviving insurgent capacities are a major challenge before the Sarbananda Sonowal led Assam Government, which took charge on May 24, 2016.

 

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Assam: Remaining Sparks

Nijeesh N. Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
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