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Assam awaiting Chittagong arms haul verdict

  • Samir Purkayastha, Kolkata, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2014-01-30 10:36:51 BdST

Security agencies in India’s Northeastern state of Assam are eagerly awaiting the verdict on the sensational Chittagong arms haul cases to be delivered on Thursday by Chittagong Metropolitan Sessions Judge and Special Tribunal-1 Judge SM Mojibur Rahman.

The military wing chief of the separatist United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) Paresh Barua is one of the prime accused in these cases -- along with Jamaat-e-Islami chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, former State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar and two senior officials of the National Security Intelligence (NSI).

Barua is charged under the Arms Act and Special Powers Act for smuggling of arms.

A senior official of the Assam home department told bdnews24.com that Barua would find it difficult to re-establish his base in Bangladesh once he is convicted in these cases.

"He will always be a convict in Bangladesh in the eyes of law. Even if any future regime in that country is kindly disposed to the ULFA, they would find it difficult to shelter the rebel chief after his conviction for smuggling of weapons," the official said, but was unwilling to be named.

"That is a major charge and this is a major case, and it is all out in the open".

A verdict against Barua in these cases of weapons smuggling would give a major boost to the PSYOP or psychological operations that Indian intelligence has launched against the elusive ULFA military wing chief.

“This (verdict against Barua) will only vindicate our claim that Barua is nothing but a degenerate arms smuggler. His claim of fighting for the cause of Assam is finished after the exposure that these cases have helped to provide," the official said.

On the other hand, the official admitted, it would be a major setback for the security apparatus in Assam if the verdict goes in favour of the ULFA chief.
An acquittal would not only clear him off any legal tangle in Bangladesh, back home in Assam it would definitely boost the morale of his beleaguered outfit, which is plagued by infighting and desertion., the official pointed out.

Even the intelligence agencies claimed that the verdict either way would have a far reaching ramification in Assam as far as the ULFA was concerned.

Police had seized 10 trucks of weapons and ammunition from the state-owned Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd (CUFL) jetty in Chittagong while those were being offloaded from trawlers in the early hours of April 2, 2004.

Around 1,500 wooden boxes containing submachine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, submachine carbines, Chinese pistols, rocket shells and launchers, hand grenades and bullets were seized.

The seizure of the huge cache of arms had triggered widespread uproar.

Later that day, Karnafuli Police Station’s OC Ahadur Rahman filed the two separate cases.

During the trial, the state alleged that the weapons and ammunition were smuggled in for ULFA which enjoyed support from the erstwhile BNP-Jamaat alliance government.

It also alleged obstruction to the investigation during that government's tenure.

Baura is believed to be hiding in Trenching inside Myanmar opposite to the Chinese town of Ruili.

Meanwhile, in its executive meeting held in Upper Assam’s Sivasagar recently, the pro-talk ULFA faction led by Arabinda Rajkhowa is said to have discussed the possible fallout of the Chittagong arms case verdict on its ongoing peace process with India.

Because in 2004, most leaders of this faction like Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa were very much with Paresh Barua and the ULFA leaders were all based in Bangladesh.

So it is not easy for them to deny involvement, though none of them have been charged in the cases.

The Rajkhowa faction of the ULFA, however, has disowned any connection with the 2004 Chittagong arms haul.

They say the plan to bring in such a huge consignment of weapons was hatched by Paresh Barua and he took no other senior ULFA leader into confidence.

As military wing chief of the ULFA, he always kept such secrets to himself, one of the pro-talk ULFA leader said. But again, he was not willing to be quoted.

After Bangladesh's Awami league government cracked down on the ULFA and other northeast Indian insurgent groups, Paresh Barua fled the country and relocated most of his fighters to bases in Upper Myanmar.

But many other leaders like Rajkhowa were nabbed by Bangladesh security forces and handed over to India to stand trial for cases against them.

However, Rajkhowa with most other leaders in Indian jails decided to renounce violence and start negotiations with India.

Paresh Barua described them as a 'bunch of traitors' and has pledged to fight on.

The ULFA stands vertically split.

Sheikh Hasina's return to power in the Jan 5 polls have further upset Barua, it is reliably learnt.

Surrendered rebels have said he was hoping to return to Bangladesh, from where it is easier to operate in Assan than it is from the remote jungles of Myanmar.

But now with Hasina back, the administration would be in no mood to go soft on Barua -- and if the Chittagong case verdict nails him on weapons smuggling, it would be so much more difficult for the rebel chief to return to Bangladesh.