Bhutan to check entry of Assam militants

Guwahati, August 29:

Bhutan has assured India that it will not allow separatist rebels fleeing a weekend crackdown in India’s restive northeast to find refuge in the remote Himalayan kingdom, an official said today.

“We shall render all possible help in preventing militants from India’s northeast entering our territory and also uprooting any rebel bases, although there are no camps right now inside our kingdom,” said Sonam Dawa, the district magistrate of Bhutan’s Serpang district bordering India’s Assam state. Dawa was leading a high-level team of Bhutanese civil and army officials to Assam’s western district of Kokrajhar to discuss reports of Assamese rebels trying to set up bases in Bhutan once again.

“We are keeping a close watch on the border area,” Dawa told reporters. Indian intelligence officials said militants from the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) were fleeing their bases in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh after Indian soldiers launched an operation at the weekend to evict them. The ULFA, a powerful militant group, has been fighting for an independent Assamese homeland since 1979. An Indian army commander said at least six ULFA rebels were killed in the offensive and five more were arrested while trying to flee. The ULFA shifted its base to Arunachal Pradesh after Bhutan in December 2003 evicted hundreds of Assam rebels including ULFA in a military offensive in dense jungles that lasted for nearly a month.