The state police suspect that United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) and Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) militants were behind the attack.
At least three jawans were killed and four seriously injured in an early morning ambush jointly carried out by suspected militants of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) and Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) in Tinsukia district of Assam this Saturday, according to the state police.
State director general of police, Mukesh Sahay, told newspersons in Guwahati, “As per latest information, three jawans of 15 Kumaon Regiment based in Pengeri area of Tinsukia district were killed in the ambush carried out around 5.30 in the morning in the Burhi Dihing reserve forest.” The security forces were reportedly travelling from Pengeri to the oil town of Digboi in an army truck and a Maruti Gypsy. The deceased have been named as Multang Singh, Narpal Singh and Rishpal Singh. The injured have been admitted to a hospital in Digboi.
Sahay said though there was a general alert on the movement of suspected militants in the area, there was no specific information based on which the security forces could act.
Speaking to reporters after the incident, district superintendent of police Mugdhjyoti Dev Mahanta said, “There was heavy shelling seen on one side of the two vehicles carried out from inside the forest. There were about 15 militants involved in the ambush. They also used IED apart from firing with RPGs (rocket propelled grenade). The heavy truck was thrown off the road due to the impact of the IED.” He said, “It is suspected to be a joint operation by ULFA (I) and NSCN (K).”
Waking up to loud sounds of explosions and heavy firing, people from the nearby villages fled home to take shelter in a local school fearing further attack. “We have been huddled here since early morning without food, no one has come to help us, our children are crying for food but we are scared of going back home,” a villager told a local news channel. As per latest reports, the villagers have been asked to move to a state forest property for the night.
Soon after the news of the ambush reached New Delhi, home minister Rajnath Singh spoke to state chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal on the phone and took stock of the situation. “I am deeply anguished by the death of the army soldiers in the attack and I pray for speedy recovery of the injured. We are monitoring the situation,” Singh said on twitter.
Speaking to newspersons in Guwahati, Sonowal said, “I condemn this attack on our soldiers. I have asked the security forces to take the strictest action and nab the culprits. It is an act of cowardice. No one will be spared.”
Since the BJP government took over the reins of the state in May this year, the anti-talks faction of ULFA led by Paresh Baruah has been conducting a number of attacks in the district, which is also close to the state’s border with Arunachal Pradesh. On November 16, a group of suspected ULFA (I) militants fired at a van of the Pengeri tea estate while it was on its way to the bank to collect cash for disbursement of weekly wages to its labourers.
In August this year, suspected ULFA (I) militants shot dead two Hindi-speaking people and injured seven others in a village in Tinsukia district.
While the centre and the state governments are engaged in peace talks with ULFA, led by its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, its commander in chief Paresh Baruah refused to come to the table as the government reportedly declined to discuss the issue of the state’s sovereignty.
In August last year, the Narendra Modi government signed a Naga framework agreement with the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) faction, the clauses of which have been kept secret. The NSCN (K) faction, however, refused to be a part of it. In June last year, NSCN (K) carried out an ambush in Manipur’s Chandel district killing 19 jawans and injuring 11 others. Since then, there have been reports of the Indian army carrying out operations against the banned outfit along the Indo-Myanmar border.
As per some media reports, NSCN (K), ULFA (I) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) factions have come together to form a regular army under a joint command to carry out operations.