United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA)
United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was formed on April 7, 1979, by Bhimakanta Buragohain, Rajiv Rajkonwar alias Arabinda Rajkhowa, Golap Baruah alias Anup Chetia, Samiran Gogoi alias Pradip Gogoi, Bhadreshwar Gohain and Paresh Baruah at the Rang Ghar in Sibsagar to establish a "sovereign socialist Assam" through an armed struggle.
Undivided ULFA's Leadership
The ULFA had clearly partitioned political and military wing. Paresh Barua headed the 'military wing' as the outfit's 'commander-in-chief'. Arabinda Rajkhowa was the head of the 'political wing'.
Paresh Baruah was the 'commander in chief' & Raju Baruah the 'Deputy-Commander-in-Chief'. Raju Baruah, who was in the custody of Assam Police since December 2009, was released on bail on November 26, 2010.
Arabinda Rajkhowa was the 'Chairman' of ULFA, Pradip Gogoi was the 'Vice Chairman', Anup Chetia was the 'General Secretary', 'foreign secretary' Sashadhar Choudhury, Chitraban Hazarika was the 'finance secretary', Mithinga Daimary was the 'Central Publicity Secretary' and Bolin Das was the 'Assistant Secretary', Pranati Deka was the 'Cultural Secretary'.
The outfit's founding member and ideologue Bhimakanta Buragohain died on December 19, 2011, due to cardiac arrest. Pradip Gogoi was arrested on April 8, 1998, and released on bail in March 4, 2010. Anup Chetia is under detention in the Bangladeshi Capital Dhaka after being arrested on December 21, 1997. Sashadhar Choudhury was released on bail on January 10, 2011. Chitraban Hazarika was arrested in November 2009 and later released on bail on January 9, 2011. Mithinga Daimary and Bolin Das were arrested during the military operations in Bhutan in December 2003. Bhimakanta Buragohain was granted bail on December 5, 2010, while Mithinga Daimari was granted bail on February 23, 2010 and released on February 25, 2010. Pranati Deka was arrested at Phulbari in the West Garo Hills District of Meghalaya and was granted bail on October 19, 2010.
Following the military operations in Bhutan in December 2003, most of its top leadership reportedly operated from unspecified locations in Bangladesh. During 2009-10, Bangladeshi establishment ousted the outfit leaders from its soil.
Undivided ULFA's Strength
The undivided ULFA had a cadre-strength of around 5,000 trained insurgents.
Areas of Activity and Influence of undivided ULFA
ULFA's organisational structure was divided into four zones. The zones and their areas of influence are enumerated below:
A military wing of the ULFA, the Sanjukta Mukti Fouj (SMF) was formed on March 16, 1996. SMF had three full-fledged battalions (Bn): the 7th, 28th and 709th. The remaining battalions existed only on paper - at best they had strengths of a company or so. Their allocated spheres of operation were as follows:
The ULFA sought shelter in the forests on the Indo-Bhutan border from the early 1990s and established several camps in the forest areas of southern Bhutan. Over the years, it reportedly developed linkages with several officers and personnel of the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) and Police – which ensured, among other things, a steady flow of rations, logistical support as well as aid and contacts for money laundering. The ULFA’s Bhutan set-up had a reported strength of around 2000 cadres spread across the outfit’s ‘General Head Quarters’, it’s ‘Council Head Quarters’, a ‘Security-cum-Training Camp’ and a well-concealed ‘Enigma Base’. Numbering around 13 in all, the major camps of the ULFA in Bhutan included:
5. Pemagatsel Complex
9. Sukhni (Merungphu): ‘General HQ’
11. Phukaptong: ‘Council HQ’
12. Dalim-Koipani (Orang)
13. Neoli Debarli
Most camps and other establishment of the ULFA were in Sandrup Jongkhar, a District in southern Bhutan that borders Assam's Nalbari district. The RBA is reported to have destroyed all the outfit's camps and observation posts during the military operations launched in December 2003. Following the Bhutan operation, the Central Council Headquarter (CCH) of the ULFA was shifted to Rupohi Ashroy Sibir of the outfit in Bakapura area of Sherpur District. Then it was shifted to Myanmar.
In 1986, ULFA first established contacts with the then unified National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) of Myanmar for training and arms. ULFA linked up with the Kachins through the 'good offices' of the Naga rebels. It learnt the rudiments of insurgent tactics from the Kachins (who reportedly charged Rupees 100,000 per trainee).
Subsequently, links were established with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Afghan Mujahideen. Reports indicate that at least 200 ULFA activists received training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Seized documents and interrogation of some arrested activists revealed that the Defense Forces Intelligence (DFI) of Bangladesh had also trained ULFA cadres in the Sylhet district.
ULFA also had a number of camps in Bangladesh. The ISI and the Directorate General of Field Intelligence (DGFI) of Bangladesh were agencies which reportedly facilitated the ULFA's presence and operations. Several details of ULFA's Bangladesh connection were exposed when the Bangladeshi authorities arrested its leader Anup Chetia on December 21, 1997. The main charges against Chetia include illegal entry into Bangladesh, possession of two forged Bangladeshi passports, possession of an unauthorised satellite telephone and illegal possession of foreign currency of countries as diverse as the US, UK, Switzerland, Thailand, Philippines, Spain, Nepal, Bhutan, Belgium, Singapore and others. Two other accomplices, identified as Babul Sharma and Laxmi Prasad, were also arrested along with Chetia.
Apart from running training camps, ULFA launched several income generating projects in Bangladesh. It had set up a number of firms in Dhaka, including media consultancies and soft drink manufacturing units. Besides it was reported to own three hotels, a private clinic, and two motor driving schools in Dhaka. Paresh Barua was reported to personally own or has controlling interests in several businesses in Bangladesh, including a tannery, a chain of departmental stores, garment factories, travel agencies, shrimp trawlers and transport and investment companies.
ULFA's camps in Bangladesh had been functioning since 1989, at which time there were 13 to 14 such camps. Commencing initially with using Bangladesh as a safe haven and training location, ULFA gradually expanded its network to include operational control of activities and the receipt and shipment of arms in transit before they finally entered India. The Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) and Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA) were the chief suppliers of arms for the ULFA through Bangladesh. Owing to greater vigil along the known routes of ULFA arms flow, the group started setting up bases in Meghalaya, especially in the West Garo Hills to coordinate the transit of arms coming through Bangladesh.
ULFA for long maintained close linkages with the Pakistan's ISI which procured several passports for Paresh Baruah and other ULFA cadres. Several ULFA cadres also received arms training from the ISI at various training centres in Pakistan, close to the Afghanistan border. The top ULFA leadership was also in close touch with certain officers of the Pakistani High Commission in Bangladesh, who had arranged for their passport in various names and travel to Karachi, from where they have been taken to the terrorist training centres run by the ISI and its affiliates. ULFA had also announced its support for Pakistan during the Kargil war. They described the Pakistani intruders - primarily Pakistani Army regulars and Afghan mercenaries - as 'freedom fighters'. Some children of top ULFA leaders were reportedly studying in the USA and Canada under ISI protection. Reports indicated that the ULFA's monthly newsletter, Swadhinata also known as 'Freedom', received editorial support from ISI agents inside Pakistan. It was in Freedom that the ULFA first supported the Pakistanis during the Kargil war. The ISI had provided ULFA cadres with arms training, safe havens, funds, arms and ammunition. Training had been given at camps in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan. At least 300 ULFA cadres were also trained at Rawalpindi and other locations in Pakistan. The training included courses in the use of rocket launchers, explosives and assault weapons. Paresh Baruah had been regularly visiting Karachi since 1992-93. He was also reported to have met slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1996 during a visit to Karachi. The ULFA leader was reportedly taken to a camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where he not only received assurance of military help in the form of arms and ammunition, but also assurances of co-operation and logistical support of all international organisations owing allegiance to bin Laden, including the International Jehad Council, the Tehrik-ul-Jehad, Harkat-ul-Jehadi-e-Islami (HuJI), apart from the al Qaeda.
The ISI had also trained ULFA terrorists in counter intelligence, disinformation and use of sophisticated weapons and explosives. Pakistan had facilitated the visits of Paresh Baruah and other ULFA leaders to Singapore, Thailand and other countries, and a channel for the transfer of funds and arms had been created. Several Madrassas (seminaries) and mosques sponsored by the ISI in the Sylhet and Cox's Bazaar areas were being used to hoard and transfer arms procured by the ULFA from Thailand and Myanmar. The ISI largesse enabled ULFA to buy arms in Cambodia, paying for these in hard currency routed through Nepal. The ISI also 'introduced' ULFA to LTTE transporters who, for a fee, undertook to transport arms from Southeast Asia into Myanmar. In April 1996, Bangladesh seized more than 500 AK-47 rifles, 80 machineguns, 50 rocket launchers and 2,000 grenades from two ships off Cox's Bazaar. Four Tamils were among those arrested
Co-operation between various terrorist organisations in India's north-east and foreign groups was formalised with the formation of the Indo-Burmese Revolutionary Front (IBRF) in 1989. The IBRF was made up initially of the NSCN-K, ULFA, United Liberation Front of Bodoland, Kuki National Front (KNF) (all from India) and Chin National Front (Myanmar). Paresh Baruah was reported to have paid a substantial sum of money to the Kachins for the first large consignment of weapons from Thailand. Manerplaw in lower Myanmar on the border with Thailand was the stronghold of the rebel Karen National Union which, in 1993, was reported to have delivered, from the Cambodian arms market, AK-56 rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled guns and anti-tank rifles to the ULFA. The organisation's cadres had identified an arms dealer as an ethnic Kachin and wife of an assassinated Manipuri rebel Themba Song. The Communist Party of Burma is known to have gifted some weapons, mainly Chinese-made M10 rifles, to ULFA and Naga terrorist organisations.
Arrested ULFA cadres have claimed that Baruah used to smuggle heroin, procured in Myanmar, into Assam as part of "a personal operation". According to surrendered ULFA cadres, the ULFA terrorists had also crossed over into China via Bhutan and established contact with the Chinese Army. The group, on the basis of these contacts, had a rendezvous with a Chinese ship on the high seas in March 1995 during which a weapons' consignment was transferred to them. A further consignment ultimately landed up in Bhutan in 1999, though it was actually acquired in 1997. ULFA also had profitable narcotics business in Myanmar and Thailand. A close nexus between ULFA and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had also been reported. The LTTE reportedly had trained various ULFA cadres in explosives handling.
Split in ULFA
On February 5, 2011, ULFA leaders led by ULFA 'vice-chairman' Pradip Gogoi, along with 'foreign secretary' Sashadhar Choudhury and 'central publicity secretary' Mithinga Daimary announced that the outfit's general council had endorsed the resolution of the central executive council (CEC) to sit for talks with the Central Government without any precondition. ULFA 'commander-in-chief' Paresh Baruah led group described the general council itself as unconstitutional thus negating the resolution. The 'formal' split however took place in August 2012 when Paresh Baruah 'expelled' Arabinda Rajkhowa and appointed Abhijit Barman as the outfit's 'chairman'.
Thus emerged two factions of ULFA- Anti-Talks faction of ULFA (ULFA-ATF) and Pro-Talks faction of ULFA (ULFA-PTF), led by Paresh Baruah and Arabinda Rajkhowa respectively.
Leadership: The leadership consists of Arabinda Rajkhowa, Pradip Gogoi, Sashadhar Choudhury, Mithinga Daimary, Chitrabon Hazarika, Pranati Deka and Raju Baruah. In October 2011, Arabinda Rajkhowa formed a 35 Member Central and Naba Niraman Kendra Steering Committee by amending the outfit's constitution to oversee every detail of the peace process.
Strength: The cadre strength of ULFA-PTF is 297.
Status of Talks: Presently the ULFA-PTF is in talks with Government. A tripartite agreement for Suspension of Operations (SoO) was signed among the Centre, the Assam Government and the ULFA-PTF on September 3, 2011.
The ULFA-ATF renamed itself as ULFA-Independent (ULFA-I), following its 'central executive committee' meeting between April 2 and 5, 2013.
Leadership: ULFA-I is presently led by its 'Chairman' Abhijit Barman; and Paresh Baruah (57), who is the 'vice-chairman' and also 'commander-in-chief', based somewhere near the Sino-Myanmar border. The 'central committee' of the outfit includes- 'Associate general secretary' and 'finance secretary in-charge' Jibon Moran, 'assistant foreign secretary' Pranmoy Asom and 'deputy commander-in-chief' Dristi Rajkhowa.
Strength: ULFA-ATF has an estimated strength of 150-250 militants, mostly new recruits, who are militarily organized into three groups - Rongili (the cheerful lady), the biggest formation, based in Myanmar; Lakhimi (the homely lady) is a small group still in Bangladesh; and Kopili (the speedy river), the new identity for the erstwhile 27th battalion, now temporarily based in Majuli, located in Jorhat.
Areas of Activity and Influence: According to reports, ULFA-I now has camps in Myanmar, Garo hills of Meghalaya and Tirap and Changlang Districts of Arunachal Pradesh and Mon District of Nagaland. According to reports the outfits still has three camps in Bangladesh.
The ULFA-I continues to maintain the linkages with most other militant formations with which the undivided ULFA had established its relations. The outfit continues to get the support from the ISI.