SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
With 439 insurgency-related fatalities in 500 incidents of violence, Assam remained the most violent theatre of conflict in India’s Northeast in 2007. The year 2006 had recorded a marginal decline in total fatalities over the previous year, heralding hopes of ‘stabilisation’ in the State. The dramatic escalation of insurgent violence in 2007, however, has dashed all such expectations, once more raising the spectre of anarchy in the State.
Insurgency-related fatalities in Assam: 2005-07
Source: 2005 & 2006: Union Ministry of Home Affairs, 2007: Assam Police
Fatalities among civilians and the insurgents have significantly increased in the State in 2007. An increase of 74 per cent was recorded in civilian fatalities between 2006 and 2007, while insurgent fatalities rose by 180 per cent, indicating a series of successes for the SFs. Assam Police sources further indicate that 1,627 insurgents from various groups in the State were arrested in 2007 and a further 200 surrendered, considerably weakening the outfits. Nevertheless, extremist depredations continued, and the large number of civilian killings was compounded by the abduction of at least 75 civilians, of whom 55 were rescued, and an enveloping campaign of extortion.
The neutralisation (killings, arrests and surrender) of 1,956 insurgents in 2007 notwithstanding, the state of insurgency in extended parts of Assam continues to evoke a sense of fear among common citizens. As indicated by Institute for Conflict Management database, insurgent violence was reported from 26 of Assam’s 27 Districts in 2007, the north-eastern District of Lakhimpur being the only peaceful geographical entity. Assam Police sources indicate that the dramatic rise in civilian fatalities is solely due to the spate of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) sponsored violence against the Hindi-speaking population in the eastern-most (Upper Assam) Districts of the State in January and another similar campaign against the trading community in the hilly Karbi Anglong District in August. However, given the fact that the bulk of the killings was the handiwork of four principal insurgent groups in the State, of which the influence of three was confined to four contiguous Districts, the claims of insurgent marginalisation do not hold conviction.Major incidents of insurgency-related violence (incidents involving five or more deaths) in 2007 include:
December 13: Five people were killed and four others injured in a bomb blast carried out by suspected All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA) militants in a Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express train in Assam's Golaghat District. The explosion, which occurred between Naujan and Sugajan, destroyed the luggage van of the train and a small portion of the railway track as well.
November 27: Suspected Black Widow militants shot dead 10 unidentified saw mill workers and injured eight others in two separate attacks at Bithorgaon under Umrangsho police station in the North Cachar Hills (NC Hills) District.
August 10: A group of 10-15 suspected ULFA and Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) militants attacked a village at Dolamara in the Karbi Anglong District and shot dead 11 Hindi-speaking migrant workers. The dead included four women and two children belonging to two families originally hailing from the State of Bihar.
August 8: Nine civilians, including four women and three children, were killed and five others injured when a group of ULFA and KLNLF militants opened indiscriminate fire targeting the Hindi-speaking people at Ampahar Basti village under Howraghat police station in the Karbi Anglong District.
July 20: Five civilians, including a four-year-old child, were killed and 18 others injured when suspected ULFA and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) militants triggered a powerful bomb at Srirampur Chariali under Tamarhat police station in the Kokrajhar District.
June 23: Six persons, including three children, were killed and 14 others injured when suspected ULFA militants triggered an explosion in front of a mosque at Machkhowa in the Guwahati city.
May 26: Seven persons were killed and 18 others injured in an explosion triggered by suspected ULFA militants in the Athgaon area of Guwahati city.
May 15: The ULFA militants shot dead six unidentified Hindi-speaking people in various areas of the Dibrugarh and Sivsagar Districts.
January 7: Seven persons belonging to Bihar were killed and three others injured when ULFA militants called them out of their homes at Borali Bari near Mahmara in the Sivasagar District and opened fire.
Six Hindi-speaking persons were shot dead and one injured in an attack by the ULFA at Chokolia near Dimow in the Dibrugarh District
January 6: KLNLF militants killed eight polling personnel and injure eight others during elections to the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Development Council. Militants exploded an improvised explosive device (IED) and fired on polling personnel when they were returning after the close of voting.
January 5: At least 19 persons were killed and 25 others wounded, when explosions were triggered targeting migrant workers in six separate locations in the eastern Districts of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia. Sivasagar District was also part of the area where explosion caused civilian casualty. Heavily armed ULFA militants attacked two brick kilns, fired indiscriminately on shops and business centres, besides triggering an explosion near a tea garden.
Eight persons were killed and 11 others sustained injuries when ULFA militants opened fire at Bandarkhat and Langswal Tea Estates under Duliajan police station in the Tinsukia District.
The ULFA has, no doubt, suffered a series of setbacks since the December 2003 military operations in Bhutan. The loss of its bases in that country made it overtly dependant on its facilities in the Sagaing Division of Myanmar, run in cooperation with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K). The ‘28th battalion’ of ULFA remains the outfit’s premier strike force, responsible for all its attacks in the Upper Assam Districts. The ‘battalion’ has traditionally used the virgin territory of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland to travel between Assam and Myanmar, a movement that remained largely undisrupted till November 2007. However, on November 11, an ambush by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) cadres – the Khaplang group’s implacable rivals – on a group of ULFA men in transit in Nagaland’s Mon District. Two ULFA militants were killed in the attack and two others taken hostage by the NSCN-IM, creating problems of movement for the ULFA. The warming up of ULFA’s ties with the NSCN-K has apparently created an acrimonious war between the NSCN-IM and the ULFA, erstwhile partners in terror, resulting in the NSCN-IM refusing any right of movement to ULFA cadres through Naga territory. Augmented SF deployment in Arunachal Pradesh had already created serious problems of transit for the ULFA. ULFA’s routes to Bangladesh, mostly through the Garo Hills of Meghalaya, however, remain undisrupted.
ULFA has attempted to tide over its losses through strategic alliances with peripheral extremist groups such as the KLNLF and the AANLA. In the month of August, the KLNLF carried out a violent campaign against the Hindi-speaking trading community in the Karbi Anglong District. The campaign was backed by the ULFA and, on several occasions, ULFA cadres participated in the mayhem. Similarly, links with the ULFA have transformed the AANLA, formerly a nascent outfit with about 50 cadres, into an aggressive group with access to sophisticated weapons and explosives. The AANLA, on December 13, successfully carried out an explosion in the New Delhi Rajdhani Express in the Golaghat District, killing five persons. The AANLA is also trying to increase its support base by claiming to speak for the Adivasis in the State and has joined its cause with the Adivasi demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. Top leaders of the outfit are based in lawless areas of the Jharkhand State, far from the clutches of the SFs in Assam. Similarly, the Black Widow, operating in the NC Hills continues to be a potent local force with capabilities yet to be neutralised by the SF operations.
ULFA remains a unified and cohesive force, in spite of statements to the contrary by the security agencies. Outgoing AOC-in-C Eastern Air Command, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora claimed, in December, that "one faction, operating in lower Assam, is playing into the hands of Pakistan’s ISI and other fundamentalist forces, while the other, operating in Upper Assam, has built up a nexus with the NSCN-K." ULFA was quick to rebuff this assertion. The supposed differences between the outfit’s ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Baruah and ‘chairman’ Arabinda Rajkhowa, or between cadres of separate ‘battalions’, remain a part of the SF psy-ops and are yet to be demonstrated through any convincing evidence. More importantly, the impact of such a ‘rift’ is yet to reflect on the group’s operational capabilities.
Throughout the year, both SF sources and the political setup in the State remained concerned about jihadi activities in the state. On August 6, 2007, Assam Forest and Environment Minister Rockybul Hussain, replying on behalf of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, stated that nine groups, including the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA), were currently active in Assam. On several occasions, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi himself spoke with alarm about growing jihadi activities in the State. Such apprehensions, however, appear exaggerated, rooted in the state’s inability to prioritise its responsibilities. Institute for Conflict Management data indicates the arrest of just eight MULTA cadres in the entire year 2007, in four incidents reported from the south-western Dhubri District, on the international border with Bangladesh. In a lone incident, on July 14, the dead body of a civilian suspected to have been abducted by MULTA cadres was recovered from the Dhubri District. No activity by HuM cadres was reported from the State in 2007.
The prospects of peace talks with the ULFA, which dominated the discourse in the State in the latter part of 2005 and 2006, and was also in some measure responsible for the decline in fatalities in the State in those years, remained a non-starter. While both the People’s Consultative Group (PCG) and the People's Committee for Peace Initiative (PCPI) in Assam, both consisting of ULFA sympathisers, have been disbanded, individual members of both bodies continued their effort to seek the release of five jailed ULFA leaders, a step that they described as necessary on the part of the Government in order to remove the ‘final hurdle’ to the dialogue process. Indeed, the State Government and New Delhi have, of late, come under flak from various quarters in Assam, for not giving in to ULFA’s demand. The Assam Government has understandably pleaded with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to allow the release of the rather aged and unwell leaders who are of little operational value to the outfit. The ULFA, however, on December 31, clarified that the release alone would not be sufficient to start a negotiation process. The Government, ULFA demanded, must provide in writing its willingness to discuss the issue of "restoration of Assam’s sovereignty" before the beginning of the peace process. This was expectedly rejected by both Dispur and New Delhi and brought to an end all speculations on the release of the imprisoned ULFA leaders.
On the other hand, the ceasefire agreements with the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), currently in its eighth year, and with the Dima Halim Daogah (DHD), in its seventh year, continued with periodic extensions. There are indications that both groups have been growing restive with the lack of progress in the peace talks and are threatening to pull out of the process. The Government, however, appears unworried as the protracted peace processes have weakened both these groups, diminishing their support base in their purported ‘constituencies’. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), in ceasefire with the Government since 2005 is also experiencing a similar dilemma. The peace process itself remains stalled over New Delhi’s insistence on a charter of demands by the NDFB, a pre-condition to the commencement of negotiations. The NDFB’s leadership, however, including its Bangladesh-based ‘chairman’ Ranjan Daimary, has steadfastly refused to abide by periodic deadlines set by the Union Government to provide the charter, which it says would be submitted, "at an appropriate time and not according to India’s wishes."
New security steps announced by the State Government in the last week of December include the plan to open 19 Police Stations in the char (riverine) areas, 26 Police Stations in the Adivasi-dominated remote areas, and the filling up of 298 vacant posts in the Special (Intelligence) Branch of the Police Department. The State Government has reportedly asked New Delhi for financial assistance to raise another India Reserve Battalion (IRB) in addition to the State’s first IR Battalion, which is in the process of being raised. The State has also sought assistance to modernise the ‘technical capability’ for intelligence gathering by procuring state-of-the-art interception equipment to penetrate the communication network of the insurgents.
Security planning in the State, engaged in a war against insurgency for nearly three decades, however, remains largely reactive. For example, it was only after the killing of two local politicians belonging to the Congress Party, Purnendu Langthasa and his colleague Nindu Langthasa, killed in a militant den by Black Widow cadres in the NC Hills District in June, that the State Government decided to increase the number of Police Stations in the District. Till then, this District, spread over 4,890 square kilometres, was supervised by only four Police stations. Similarly, the Assam Government has spoken intermittently on the operational difficulty of managing the hill Districts of Karbi Anglong and NC Hills under the command of the Army’s 3 Corps, based in Dimapur in neighbouring Nagaland, and have argued that these should be brought under the Assam-based 4 Corps in Tezpur. However, till the end of the year 2007, a good six months after the high profile killings in the NC Hills, the move has not materialised.
Assam’s Police-population ratio, at 178, is the lowest among the India’s north-eastern States. According to media reports in December 2007, Assam had 7,776 vacancies including those of 6,695 constables, 17 Additional Superintendents of Police (ASP), 135 Deputy Superintendents of Police (DSPs), besides inspectors, head constables, and vacancies in other ranks. Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data indicates that no recruitment took place in the State Police department for three consecutive years between 2002 and 2005, before 1,350 constables were inducted in 2005. While there has been increasing unanimity regarding the criticality of the Police’s role in reining in the insurgency, Assam’s Police expenditure has, in fact, declined in recent years. BPR&D data indicates, for instance, that while the State Police department spent INR 7.8 billion in 2004-05, the expenditure decreased to INR 6.2 billion in the following financial year. Similarly, while INR 72 million was spent on training of Police personnel in 2004-05, the State Police department spent a good INR 12 million less in 2005-06. Incidentally, Only 0.97 percent of the total Police expenditure in 2005-06 was spent on training.
On January 1, 2008, Chief Minister Gogoi unveiled the routine and now tried ‘three-pronged strategy’ – on the political, law and order and developmental fronts – to deal with the insurgency in the State. This, however, appeared to be little more than the usual political rhetoric, long used by successive regimes in the State to disguise their ineptitude over the previous years. Except for the temporary dip in violence in the preceding years, a trend that appears to have been decisively reversed in 2007, Assam has very little to show in terms of its improved capacities to rein in the insurgents. Even after nearly three decades of insurgency, the initiative continues to remain in the hands of the insurgents, a reality that is unlikely to change in 2008.
The north-west Indian State of Punjab remained peaceful through 2007, though it was marred by a single and significant terrorist strike at Ludhiana in October. This is the 14th consecutive year the State has remained relatively free of major political violence after the widespread terrorist-secessionist movement for ‘Khalistan’ was comprehensively defeated in 1993.
Central intelligence sources, however, indicate that a concerted attempt to revive militancy in the State is under way. Sources disclose that Pakistan-sponsored terrorist cells are plotting to trigger sectarian violence, and that there had been a three-fold increase of narcotics and arms trading into Punjab from Pakistan. The Intelligence Bureau has reportedly indicated that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, had chosen five groups in Pakistan, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), to train Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) militants. The BKI has reportedly set up a common office with the LeT in Nankana Sahib, in West Punjab, Pakistan. There is also a substantial amount of overseas funding and support for the militant groups, coming primarily from Khalistani operatives in Germany, US, UK and Canada, a trend that has been sustained since the separatist movement was defeated.
On January 10, 2008, the Director General of Police in Punjab, N. P. S. Aulakh, stated that the ISI was behind the regrouping of the BKI in Punjab. Addressing a Press Conference at Chandigarh, he claimed the that the BKI had engineered the Ludhiana bomb blast, and had planned the elimination of the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, Baba Bhaniarewala and certain other heads of religious sects operating in Punjab. He added that the BKI operatives arrested by the Ludhiana Police had revealed that they secured arms training in Pakistan. The Punjab Police chief further disclosed to the media that the Police had identified a new terrorist group in the name of the International Liberation Revolutionary Force (ILRF) working in the Malwa region and had arrested all the six persons behind the formation of this outfit, along with one AK 47 rifle and other weapons.
The most significant among the surviving leaders of the Khalistani militant groups and many cadres are currently hosted by the ISI in Pakistan, and there is a constant effort to revive recruitment and terrorism in Punjab, as well as a continuous vigil for opportunities that may help provoke a favourable extremist mobilisation. In early May 2007, for instance, intelligence agencies revealed that the LeT and the ISI were trying to revive militancy in Punjab through sympathisers of Sikh militant groups like the BKI, the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) and Khalistan Commando Force (KCF). Information was reportedly sent to the Punjab Police about plans to target towns in the Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Pathankot regions. Instructions had, at this junction, been issued to the authorities to monitor the activities of sympathisers of these groups, who were allegedly sending funds through hawala (illegal money transfers) to "re-launch their separatist movement."
The revival of forgotten slogans for ‘Khalistan’ was again witnessed on the ‘lunatic fringes’ of the State’s politics in 2007. A constant campaign was re-orchestrated by the radicals against the Dera Sacha Sauda – a group regarded as ‘heretic’ by orthodox Sikhs – and its head, Baba Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, accused of ‘blasphemy’ and of ‘hurting Sikh sentiments’. The Dera had published advertisements with Ram Rahim Singh dressed as the Tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh. The controversy had dovetailed into party political conflicts, since the Dera had supported the Congress Party in the Legislative Assembly Elections in February 2007, helping the Congress secure 37 of 65 seats in the Malwa belt, where the Dera boasted hundreds of thousands of followers. The Congress Party was, nonetheless, defeated in the Assembly Elections, but the victorious Shiromani Akali Dal, a party that secured its mandate from its claim to represent Sikh interests, was left with an issue to pick with the Dera. Further, intelligence sources did confirm that the troubles had started from the Gurudwara at Talwandi Sabo after "a significant amount of ‘chatter’ between priests there and Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence handlers as well as Wadhawa Singh, the Babbar Khalsa International ‘chief’, who is being retained in comfort – with a small surviving rump of cadres – at Karachi."
There was only one terrorist attack in Punjab during 2007 – Sikh militants did manage to trigger a bomb blast inside a cinema hall in Ludhiana, killing seven persons, including a 10-year old child, and injuring 40 others on October 14, 2007. The victims were identified as migrants from other States, who were watching a Bhojpuri language film at the city’s Shringaar Cinema. Two days after the blast, on October 16, National Security Advisor (NSA) M.K. Narayanan stated that attempts were being made in Pakistan to revive Sikh extremism in Punjab. On board Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s aircraft, the NSA stated, "There has been a manifest attempt in Pakistan to build up a radical Sikh environment. Sporadic blasts were creating sensation, but the desired effect of sustained tension was not working. We had intelligence about four to six months back that a lot of effort was going into attempts to foment militancy." He added further, "We have tracked intelligence information, we have studied the way such attacks take place and we can read a pattern. We have also seen signs of resuscitation of militant groups in Canada, US and Germany. We had been bracing for such a move by such elements."
The Punjab Police registered a number of counter-terrorism successes in 2007, as had been the case in previous years. On April 14, Balbir Singh alias Beera, a Pakistan-trained terrorist, was arrested from his native Chak Thaliwal village in the Ferozepore District. He was part of Paramjit Singh Dhadi’s gang of the ISYF, and cases of terrorism, murder and kidnapping for ransom were pending against him. Again, on June 15, Punjab Police claimed to have foiled an attempt to reorganise the terrorist base in the State through a conspiracy to kill some high profile religious and political leaders. The General Secretary of the Shiromani Akali Dal’s youth wing in Rupnagar District, Swaranjeet Singh alias Bobby of Bahadarpur, and a Bhindranwale Tigers Force (BTF) militant Gurcharan Singh alias Kala of Bawani village were arrested. Bobby and Kala had planned to assassinate religious leader Baba Piara Singh Bhaniarawale and had formed the Khalsa Action Committee, to recruit ‘like-minded persons’. In September 2007, 3.5 kilograms of RDX were recovered from a car owned by Jagraon resident Gurpreet Singh, son of a former terrorist. Police said that Gurpreet Singh, who is absconding, met BKI chief Wadhawa Singh earlier in 2007, after travelling to Lahore through Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The Punjab Police foiled another attempt by BKI terrorists to assassinate Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh, and heads of two sects other than the Dera Sacha Sauda, when three members of a BKI module were arrested along with explosives on December 13. The Senior Superintendent of Police (Kapurthala), Rakesh Aggarwal, disclosed that 12 other BKI gang members, including its kingpin Gurpreet Singh, were still at large.
The Additional District and Sessions Judge in Chandigarh Ravi Kumar Sondhi, on July 27, convicted six persons out of a group of nine accused in the assassination case of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. Jagtar Singh Hawara of the BKI, Shamsher Singh, Lakhwinder Singh, Balwant Singh and Gurmeet Singh were held guilty on charges of murder, attempt to murder, abetment to suicide, criminal conspiracy under sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Explosives Act. Nasib Singh who was also accused of murder, attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy and abetment to suicide, was acquitted on these charges, owing to lack of evidence, and was held guilty only under Section 5 of the Explosives Act. The only accused who was acquitted of all charges was Navjot Singh. Proceedings against Paramjit Singh Bheora, declared a proclaimed offender in the case, are still pending. The ninth accused, Jagtar Singh Tara, was still absconding. On July 31, the Judge awarded the death sentence to Hawara and Balwant Singh. Three other convicts were awarded life imprisonment for their involvement in the criminal conspiracy, while the sixth, Naseeb Singh, was given 10 years imprisonment under the Explosives Act, along with a fine of INR 10,000. However, since Naseeb, the oldest of the accused at 72, had already undergone more than the sentence awarded to him, he was freed soon after the sentencing.
Outside Punjab, a BKI militant, Gurdip Singh Rana, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on June 11, after being convicted under the Arms Act at Kurukshetra in the neighbouring State of Haryana. Wanted by the Punjab Police, Rana, who was hiding in the Sujra village of Kurukshetra District, was arrested on October 17, 2005.
In 2007, Punjab also became an extended area of operation for the banned Assam-based outfit the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). On August 13, 2007, two ULFA militants were arrested from Jalandhar following a joint operation by the Western Command Military Intelligence and Punjab Police. The duo was identified as Hemanta Roy and Jagdish Das. Roy, who hails from Shingrapara village in Assam’s Baksa District, is a member of the outfit’s ‘709th battalion’ and a relative of Hira Sarania, ‘commander’ of the unit. Das was reportedly living in Jalandhar for the past four months and was arrested from the Domariapull area. Roy had joined Das three months earlier, and was working as a waiter in the hotel, from where he was arrested. Senior Superintendent of Police Arpit Shukla stated that five driving licences, two PAN cards, a camera, defence maps and some sensitive documents, were recovered from the militants. An unidentified Army official involved in the operation disclosed, "This is perhaps the first time that we have had specific information on ULFA militants in Punjab. The cell could have been tasked with procuring guns from across the border or via Jammu and Kashmir or could have had nefarious designs to destabilise the region with the help of Pakistan’s ISI."
The ISI supports and coordinates its operation with a number of active Diaspora groups across the world, using its embassies and consulates as points of contact, coordination and recruitment. SAIR noted in an earlier assessment:
In violence-afflicted South Asia, Punjab is the rare exception where the state recovered territorial and administrative control after extremist violence had led to a near-complete breakdown of governance. However, the Sikh militants’ calculus, as of their supporters and sponsors in Pakistan and among Diaspora elements, is that, at some stage, "a convergence of political incompetence, an emotive public issue, and public discontent, will abruptly catalyse a resurgence of terror." Although such a resurgence of terror in Punjab remains a remote possibility, there are compelling reasons not to lower the guard in this strategically crucial State.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 7-13, 2008
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand account for 68 per cent of Maoist violence: Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand accounted for 68.16 per cent of the total incidents and 76.42 per cent of the total casualties in Maoist violence in 2007. Latest official figures compiled till the end of November 2007 reveal that security forces (SFs) suffered heavy casualties in the fight against left-wing extremism, as 214 SF personnel were killed compared to 133 during the same period in 2006. Though the number of incidents of Maoist violence was 1,385 – very similar to 1,398 in 2006 – the civilian causalities were lower. While 418 civilians were killed till November 2007, the toll was 501 during the corresponding period in the previous year, reflecting a shift in the Maoists' strategy, Home Ministry sources said. Times of India, January 13, 2008.
Constituent Assembly elections scheduled to be held on April 10: A Cabinet meeting, on January 11, 2008, decided to hold Constituent Assembly elections on April 10, 2008. Emerging from the Cabinet meeting, Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula said, "The Cabinet meeting made the decision in an amicable manner and the Government will concentrate on the Constituent Assembly elections, setting it as the major agenda." Leaders of the three major political parties, Prime Minister and Nepali Congress leader Girija Prasad Koirala, CPN-Maoist Chairman Prachanda and the Communist Party of Nepal–Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, have also reached an agreement not to make any remarks in public that would adversely affect the environment for the elections. Kantipur Online, January 12, 2008.
17 policemen among 24 persons killed in suicide bombing outside Lahore High Court: At least 24 people, including 17 policemen, were killed and 80 others injured in a suicide bomb blast outside the Lahore High Court on January 10, 2008, minutes before the arrival of an anti-Government lawyers’ procession. The blast ripped through GPO Chowk in front of the Lahore High Court, as the suicide bomber walked up to the about 60 riot police – who had gathered there ahead of the protest by lawyers against President Pervez Musharraf’s Government – and blew himself up. About 200 lawyers were inside the High Court at the time of the blast, and others were marching from a nearby District Court. Bomb disposal officials at the site said the bomber triggered a device possibly carrying more than 15 kilograms of explosive material and steel-balls, which affected an approximate area of 50 meters in diameter. Bomb disposal experts added that the bomber had used a high potency, locally-made device, in which ball bearings – a quarter of an inch in diameter – had been used as splinters. Daily Times, January 11, 2008.
Minister Dissanayake assassinated near Colombo: Suspected militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) killed the non-Cabinet Minister for Nation Building, D.M. Dissanayake, in a claymore mine blast near Rukmani Devi Junction at Ja-ela on January 8, 2008, while he was proceeding towards Colombo to attend Parliament. A personal bodyguard of the Minister, identified as K.P. Rathnayaka, also succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. According to the Police, 13 people, including seven civilians, were injured in the incident. Daily News , January 9, 2008.