R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, Feb 27: Though militancy is on the wane, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has again been extended for a period of six months with effect from today with the government not willing to take any chance, particularly with the State Assembly election round the corner.

Meanwhile, police and security forces are happy over the fact that the Election Commission has decided to hold the elections in three phases as it would help in maintaining law and order during the polls.

Highly placed security sources told The Assam Tribune that holding of elections in three phases would ensure smooth relocation of forces after each phase of the polls and the plan is to post armed component of the forces in all the polling buildings to prevent any untoward incident. The Army is never used during the polls, but personnel can be used for area domination so that militants cannot sneak into the State to create trouble during the polls.

Sources revealed that the government would seek additional forces from the Centre to ensure free and fair polls. However, sources refused to divulge the number of additional companies of Central forces to be sought for the polls.

It may be mentioned here that during the visit of the Chief Election Commissioner and other members of the Election Commission to review the poll preparedness in the State, the Assam Police had requested that the polls should be conducted in three phases.

Sources said the activities of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) are now limited to a few pockets in areas bordering Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.

As per the provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Army can enter 15 km into the neighbouring states in “hot pursuit” of militants, which would be beneficial to control activities of militants as there have been inputs that small groups of militants are lurking around in inter-state border areas, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into Assam.

“It is a fact that militancy is on the wane, but the State government has decided not to take any chance and that is why, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been extended for a period of six months,” sources said.

Sources revealed that according to inputs available, the ULFA(I) has stepped up efforts to extort money from tea gardens, stone crushers, etc., located in the areas bordering Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. However, the only major incident was the kidnapping of two officials of Quippo oil company and the incident took place in Arunachal Pradesh.

Another disturbing report is that National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) leader M Batha, who surrendered along with his colleagues last year, has been missing for the last few days. It is suspected that he has launched a new militant outfit along with few members of erstwhile NDFB, but police and security forces do not have any confirmed report.

Sources said the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was looking for him and “he must have got the tip-off and went into hiding.”