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Terror trail on the other border

Terror trail on the other border

Author: Keshav Pradhan
Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 29, 2006
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1823586.cms

Malaya is a tiny frontier village, about 145 km north-east of Agartala, in West Tripura district. It overlooks the expanse of paddy fields in Bangladesh's Moulvibazar district, which is a stronghold of jailed terror kingpin Aziz-ur-Rahman alias Banglabhai.

Malaya may be Marxist-dominated, but it is here that 11 Tabliq-i-Jamaat activists from Maharashtra were detained on July 13, to verify if they had any links with the blasts on Mumbai's trains that killed about 180 people this month.

Their interrogation did not reveal anything objectionable, but it brought to light the absence of a strategy to counter the danger of Tripura turning into a terror conduit.

Tripura shares a 856-km long border with Bangladesh, but only 608 km of that is fenced with wire, and that too in patches. In fact, it's easier to walk into Bangladesh from Tripura than travel to Assam by car.

International Links

There's enough evidence of cross-border links. There has reportedly been a rise in the number of international telephone calls in the frontier areas since the arrival of the 11 activists - from 54 calls in May and June, it rose to 70 in July in the Kamlapur-Mohanpur belt alone.

Police claim that most of the calls were made to Bangladesh and Gulf nations. "There's no way we can keep any track of calls made through Bangladesh's Gramin phone which functions in our border districts," says a police official based in Ambasa in Dhalai district.

However, Tripura's Jamiat Ulama (Hind) chief Mufti Tayebur Rahman sees no reason why the authorities should look at minorities with suspicion. He says, "We fought against Partition. We will hand over anybody who works against our country."

That is easier said than done. The tiny state is brutal territory. A journey along national highway 44, Tripura's only link to the rest of the country, is dangerous and cumbersome.

Much of this route zigzags through hills and lowlands that are ravaged by rebels who want Tripura's "independence". Movement of civilian vehicles without police escort is prohibited. In a day, only three convoys, each with 200 to 300 vehicles, are allowed between 7.30 am and 2.30 pm.

Vehicles assemble at Chakmaghat, 45 km north-east of Agartala, to form the convoys. CRPF jeeps, equipped with light machineguns, lead them slowly along the 90-km stretch to Manu near the Assam border. Heavily armed CRPF, Assam Rifles and Tripura State Rifles men guard every bend of the highway.

Ravaged State

Tripura's villages have seen riots, massacres and ambushes by outfits like Tribal National Volunteers (TNV), National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tigers Front (ATTF).

While TNV is defunct, the other two are active and operate from Bangladeshi districts. "Tripura desperately needs special attention," says state director-general of police G M Srivastav.

Says Dhanonjoy Reang, who founded NLFT in 1989, "We had our training in a foreign country. But I cannot tell you where." The 48-year-old Baptist Christian surrendered along with 154 guerrillas in December 1991.

Now head of Tripura Resurrection Army, he is preparing to begin a fast-unto-death to press for fulfilment of promises made by the state government at the time of the surrender. He says, "People take up arms only when they suffer from a strong sense of deprivation."

The Bangla Connection

Security agencies say ATTF and NLFT have been conducting arms training camps at Satcherri (Habiganj district), Dalubari and Khasipunja (Moulvibazar district), Wadukpara, Sankachari, Panchari and Lowlang (Khagrachari district), Sylhet and Tarabon in Chittagong Hill Tracts, all in Bangladesh.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) and United National Liberation Front (two Manipuri rebel outfits), the Hyniewtrep National Liberation Council, a Khasi outfit, and National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), also use Tripura as a passage to Bangladesh.

The ATTF has ties with PLA and the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), while NLFT has links with NSCN and UNLF. Ulfa chief Paresh Baruah and NLFT chairman Bishwamohan Debbarma are believed to be holed up in Bangladesh.

Authorities fear that the rising tide of fundamentalism in Bangladesh might spill over into the minority-dominated frontier areas of Tripura and Assam's Barak valley.

They say many religious organisations in Bangladesh get funds from Gulf countries. "With western powers breathing down Pervez Musharraf's neck, the chances of ISI promoting Bangladesh-based anti-India elements are high," says a BSF official.

"There is evidence of India's rebels getting closer to Bangladeshi ultras. This is the only way they can fulfil each others' interests," he adds.

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