United Liberation Front of Assam
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The United Liberation Front of Assam (Assamese: সংযুক্ত মুক্তি বাহিনী, অসম) is a separatist outfit operating in Assam, North East India. It seeks to establish a sovereign Assam with an armed struggle in the Assam conflict. The government of India banned the organisation in 1990 citing it as a terrorist organisation, while the United States Department of State lists it under "other groups of concern."
According to ULFA sources, it was founded on 7 April 1979 at Rang Ghar, a historic structure dating to the Ahom kingdom (1228–1826) and began operations in 1990. Sunil Nath, former Central Publicity Secretary and spokesman of ULFA has stated that the organisation established ties with the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1983 and with the Burma based KIA in 1987. Military operations against the ULFA by the Indian Army began in 1990 and continue into the present. On 5 December 2009, the chairman and the deputy commander-in-chief of ULFA was taken into Indian custody. In 2011, there was a major crackdown on the ULFA in Bangladesh, which greatly assisted the government of India in bringing ULFA leaders to talks. In January 2010, ULFA softened its stance and dropped demands for independence as a condition for talks with the Government of India.
On 3 September 2011, a tripartite agreement for Suspension of Operations (SoO) against ULFA was signed between the Indian government, the Assam government and the ULFA.
- 1 Leaders
- 2 History
- 3 ULFA according to itself
- 4 ULFA according to Government of India
- 5 Links to China
- 6 Major activities
- 7 Surrenders
- 8 Secret killings of ULFA family members
- 9 Negotiations/talks
- 10 Renewed Peace Initiative
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 External links
- Paresh Baruah (Commander-in-Chief) — sentenced to death by Bangladesh court.
- Arabinda Rajkhowa (Chairman), Released on bail
- Pradip Gogoi (Vice-Chairman), Released on bail
- Anup Chetia (General secretary) — deported to India from Bangladesh. Currently in Indian custody.
- Raju Baruah (Deputy Commander-in-Chief), Released on bail
- Mithinga Daimary (Publicity Secretary), Released on bail
- Chitraban Hazarika (Finance Secretary), Released on bail
- Pranati Deka (Cultural Secretary), Released on bail
- Sashadhar Choudhury (Foreign Secretary), Released on bail
The ULFA was founded on 7 April 1979 in Sivasagar, Assam by some youths which included Paresh Baruah, Arabinda Rajkhowa, Anup Chetia, Pradip Gogoi, Bhadreshwar Gohain and Budheswar Gogoi. The organisation's purpose was to engage in an armed struggle to form a socialist Assam.
Ulfa during its heydays (late eighties and nineties of the last century) was quite popular among many Assamese people of the Brahmaputra valley. Majority of the supporters felt that a powerful organisation was necessary to get the voice of a peripheral region heard in the corridors of power in Lutyen’s Delhi. But gradually, the organisation’s undue emphasis on collection of money and weapons in the name of furthering the ‘revolution’ led to mindless violence throughout the state. It witnessed a period marked by growing disillusionment and anger amid its supporters. In their bloody conflict with the security agencies, many innocent people lost their lives and several thousands were permanently maimed. It is estimated that more than ten thousand local youths perished during that turbulent period. In the process, owing to the twin factors of increasing pressure by the security agencies and dwindling support among its core sympathisers, its importance in Assam has been steadily declined.
Recruiting for the front did not begin until 1983. Soon after it finished recruitment in 1984, it began to seek out training and arms procurement from other groups such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). In 1986 it launched a fund raising "campaign" across India by way of extortion. It then began to set up camps in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh but was soon banned by New Delhi on 7 November, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
In less than a decade of its formation, the ULFA emerged as one of the most powerful and violent insurgent outfit in Southeast Asia, largely because of the immense popularity it enjoyed during the first decade of its struggle as well as its economic power which in turn helped it in bolstering its military capabilities. In the early 1990s, ULFA launched an aggressive campaign with victims such as security forces, political opponents, and blasting rail links. In July 1991 the front captured and held 14 people for ransom, included in the abductees was an engineer and a national of the Soviet Union. From the 1990s on the ULFA have continued to carry out terrorist attacks. 
ULFA according to itself
The ULFA is a revolutionary political organisation engaged in a liberation struggle against state terrorism and economic exploitation by India for the establishment of a sovereign, independent Assam. It does not consider itself a secessionist organisation, as it claims that Assam was never a part of India and as a matter of fact the Treaty of Yandaboo was signed in 1826 by General Sir Archibald Campbell on the British side, and by Governor of Legaing Maha Min Hla Kyaw Htin from the Burmese side. With the British army at Yandabo village, only 50 miles from the capital Ava, the Burmese were forced to accept the British terms without discussion.
According to the treaty, the Burmese agreed to (1) cede to the British Assam, Manipur, Rakhine (Arakan), and Taninthayi (Tenasserim) coast south of Salween river, (2) cease all interference in Cachar and Jaintia, (3) pay an indemnity of one million pounds sterling in four instalments, (4) allow for an exchange of diplomatic representatives between Ava and Calcutta, and (5) sign a commercial treaty in due course.
It claims that among the various problems that the people of Assam are confronting, the problem of national identity is the most basic, and therefore it seeks to represent "independent minded struggling peoples" irrespective of race, tribe, caste, religion and nationality.
ULFA according to Government of India
The Government of India (GOI) has classified it as a terrorist organisation and had banned it under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in 1990. Concurrently, GOI started military offensives against it, named Operation Bajrang November 1990, Operation Rhino September 1991, Operation All Clear December 2003 and Operation Rhino 2 led by the Indian Army. The anti insurgency operations still continues at present under the Unified Command Structure.
Links to China
The outlawed group has been using China for shelter following mounting pressure from both Burma and Bangladesh, in turn pressured by India. The outfit’s top commander, Paresh Baruah, is living near the Sino-Burmese border looking for an alternative position for a hideout. There are 50 ULFA militants holed up in China’s Yunnan Province led by the group's Lt. Partha Jyoti Gogoi.
Some of the major assassinations by ULFA include that of Surendra Paul in May 1990, the brother of businessman Lord Swraj Paul, that precipitated a situation leading to the sacking of the Government of Assam under Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and the beginning of Operation Bajrang.
On the ULFA’s Army Day on 16 March 2003, an IED explosion under a bus on National Highway No. 7 killed six civilians and wounded approximately 55 others.
In 1991 a Russian engineer, and national of the Soviet Union was kidnapped along with others and killed. In 1997, Sanjay Ghose, a social activist and a relative of a high ranking Indian diplomat, was kidnapped and killed. The highest government officer assassinated by the group was local Asom Gana Parishad minister Nagen Sharma in 2000. An unsuccessful assassination attempt was made on AGP Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta in 1997. A mass grave, discovered at a destroyed ULFA camp in Lakhipathar forest, showed evidence of executions committed by ULFA.
ULFA continues to attempt ambushes and sporadic attacks on government security forces.
In 2003, the ULFA was accused of killing labourers from Bihar in response to an alleged molestation of a Mizo girl in a train passing through Bihar. This incident sparked off anti-Bihari sentiment in Assam and ULFA saw it as an opportunity to regain its lost ground. The ULFA killed civilians of Bihari origin who had been in Assam for generations, and had been assimilated in the greater Assamese society.
In 2003, during a Railways Recruitment Board Examination for Group (D) posts conducted by Northeast Frontier Railway zone a wing of Indian Railways, a good number of candidates from Bihar and other states were beaten up and stopped from taking exam by some elements who were seeking 100 percent reservation for the Assamese non-employed long ahead of the date of the said test.
During that period ULFA was already losing its popularity and ground across many pockets in Assam where it had strongholds. However, ULFA took this situation as an opportunity to fan an opposition against 'India' among people in Assam. They started killing innocent Hindi-speaking people mostly having origin in Bihar just to show own presence in the State.
On 15 August 2004, an explosion occurred in Dhemaji District of Assam in which 13 people died, mainly women and school children. This explosion was carried out by ULFA. The ULFA has obliquely accepted responsibility for the blast. This appears to be the first instance of ULFA admitting to public killings with an incendiary device.
In January 2007, the ULFA once again struck in Assam killing approximately 62 Hindi-speaking migrant workers mostly from Bihar. ULFA notoriety as a directionless and unpopular organisation increased, as the bomb blast victims also included several ethnic Assamese people.
The Central Government made a tough response, forcing a dreaded group of ULFA - 28 Battalion to unilaterally bow down and seek asylum from the government. This particular one-sided ceasefire broke the backbone of ULFA.
On 15 March 2007, ULFA triggered a blast in Guwahati, injuring six persons as it celebrated its 'army day'.
The ULFA has claimed responsibility for bombings of economic targets like crude oil pipelines, freight trains and government buildings, including the 7 August 2005 attack on oil pipelines in Assam. ULFA carried out a bombing and destruction of a five million-liter petrol reservoir at Digboi refinery in Tinsukia, with an estimated property loss of Rs 200million. On the same day they also damaged a gas pipeline in the oil district of Tinsukia. 
In the initial years of the ULFA movement (when it used to enjoy widespread public support in both urban and rural areas of Assam), cadres were recruited from rural areas as well as from many towns in Upper and middle Assam districts. One of the most popular ULFA leader of all time, the late Heerak Jyoti Mahanta hailed from a place which is just a few kilometres from the state capital Guwahati. However, with the Assamese urban middle class becoming increasingly sceptical of ULFA's method of functioning, the ULFA targeted the remote villages and the tribal areas for recruitment. According to intelligence sources, the Paresh Baruah faction of the Ulfa, which have been continuously raising its voice against the ongoing peace process being initiated by the Arabinda Rajkhowa faction, is engaged in a massive recruitment drive in the rural areas of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Sivasagar, Lakhimpur and Nalbari districts of Assam. The Ulfa also has strong following among the Naga people in the tribal areas of Assam.
After 1985 and before it was banned in 1990, ULFA was credited in the media with many public activities. It has continued a public discourse of sorts through the local media (newspapers), occasionally publishing its position on political issues centred around the nationality question. It has participated in public debates with public figures from Assam. During the last two local elections, the ULFA had called for boycotts. Media reports suggest that it used its forces to intimidate activists and supporters of the then-ruling parties (Congress and AGP respectively).
The ULFA is credited with some bank robberies during its initial stages. Now it is widely reported to extort businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians for collecting funds. In 1997, the Chief Minister of Assam accused Tata Tea of paying the medical bills of the ULFA cultural secretary Pranati Deka at a Mumbai hospital.
Organised criminal activities
The ULFA is not involved any other organised criminal activities such as drug trafficking and arms trafficking.
The ULFA is reported to maintain a number of camps in Bangladesh, where members are trained and sheltered away from Indian security forces. In April 2004, police and Coast Guard intercepted unloading at Chittagong of a massive amount of illegal arms and ammunition, being loaded into 10 trucks and believed intended for ULFA. A total of 50 have been charged with arms smuggling and arms offences, including former high-level Bangladesh political appointees, including Bangladesh National Party ministers and National Security Intelligence military officers, as well as prominent businessmen, and Paresh Baruah, military wing chief of ULFA, then living in Dhaka. He fled the country. Trials were still underway in Chittagong in 2012 under tight security.
Until recently, they had maintained camps in Bhutan, which were destroyed by the Royal Bhutan Army aided by the Special Frontier Force in December 2003. These camps housed combatants and non-combatant families of ULFA members.
Beginning in 1990, the Government of India has attempted to wean away members of the ULFA. This occurred due to the death of the ULFA's deputy Commander in chief Heerak Jyoti Mahanta on 31 December 1991. He had opposed surrenders, but they began after his death. The group has been meeting more local opposition as residents are tired of the violence and disruption, and some energy has gone out of the movement.
In 1992 a large section of second-rung leaders and members surrendered to government authorities. These former members were allowed to retain their weapons to defend against their former colleagues; they were offered bank loans without any liabilities to help them re-integrate into society. This loose group, now called SULFA, has become an important element in the armed politics and business of Assam. Some surrenders have been staged for political and economic reasons by local and national governments.
The total number of ULFA cadres to have laid down arms has gone up to 8,718. 4,993 cadres surrendered between 1991 and 1998. 3,435 surrendered between 1998 and 2005, when a new policy to deal with the ULFA was unveiled. On 24 January 2012, one of northeast India's biggest surrender ceremonies took place in Assam's main city of Guwahati, when a total of 676 militants laid down their weapons. The Home Minister gave them roses.
Secret killings of ULFA family members
During the government of AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, unidentified gunmen assassinated a number of family members of ULFA leaders. With the fall of this government following elections in 2001, the secret killings stopped. Dinesh Barua, the elder brother of Paresh Barua, military wing chief of ULFA in the 2000s, was taken from his house at night by unidentified Assamese men, along with armed military officers. Later his body was found lying near a cremation centre in Chabua. ULFA's Publicity Secretary, Mithinga Daimary, lost five members of his family during this period.
Government investigations into the killings culminated in the report of the "Saikia Commission", presented to the Assam Assembly 15 November 2007. The report describes how the killings were organised by Prafulla Mahanta, then the Assam Home Minister. They were executed by the police, with co-operation from the Indian Army. The gunmen were former members of ULFA who had surrendered to the government. They approached their targets at home, at night, knocking on the door and speaking in Assamese to allay suspicion. When the victims answered the door, they were shot or kidnapped to be shot elsewhere.
The ULFA has put forward a set of three preconditions for talks and negotiations with the Indian government. The government has rejected these preconditions. The preconditions are:
- The talks should be held in a third country.
- The talks should be held under United Nations supervision.
- The agenda of the talks should include the sovereignty of Assam.
In 2004, the ULFA dropped the first two preconditions and offered to talk with the government. The Government of India was not ready to negotiate on the issue of sovereignty. Still some progress was made when the ULFA formed a "People's Consultative Group" in September 2005 to prepare the grounds for an eventual negotiation between the government and ULFA, which the government has welcomed. In a sustained operation launched by Indian Army inside a National Park in Dibru Saikhowa, ULFA lost its hides and camps, important leaders and cadres. The group came to the negotiating table in 2005. According to the India Times, talks were first held in December 2005 at the residence of the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. There were three rounds of peace talks with the 11-member People's Consultative Group (PCG), headed by noted Assamese writer Indira Goswami, leading to a temporary truce in August 2006. However the truce broke down by 23 September of the same year as ULFA continued with its violent activities against civil population mainly tea estates and oil pipelines. It also violated ceasefire as it lobbed grenades on Army columns during the ceasefire period.
Ceasefire by a portion of 28 Battalion of ULFA
Some leaders & cadres of the A and C companies of ULFA declared unilateral ceasefire on 24 Jun'2008 at a press meet held at Amarpur in Tinsukia district. The declared the ceasefire to pressurise the top brass of ULFA to sit on negotiation table with the Government of India. But the top brass of ULFA expelled the leaders of 28 Battalion led by Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Dutta ( who had managed to escape from the cordon of Indian Army in Dibru Saikhowa National Park). The group later renamed as ULFA ( Pro-talk ).
Currently the 28th Battalion is under commandership of Lt Bijoy Chinese alias Bijoy Das. All the battalions have now been disbanded and only part of 27 battalion renamed as Kapili Gut remains. There are no commanders other than Paresh Baruah. All the others have been downgraded to staff and workers.
Renewed Peace Initiative
With the arrest and deportation of top Ulfa leaders by the Bangladesh government to India, the once stalled peace process received a boost when the jailed Ulfa leaders took the initiative in forming a "Citizen Forum" comprising intellectuals, writers, journalists, sympathisers and professionals from various other fields that would act as a catalyst in bringing the Government of India and the rebel Ulfa to the negotiating table. In a state level convention held in Guwahati on 24 April 2010,the forum passed a set of resolutions to expedite the peace process between Government and the ULFA. These resolution include sending an 11-member team to Delhi to put pressure on the Centre to hold talk with ULFA at an earlier date. The convention resolved to urge both government and ULFA to come forward for talk without any condition. Moreover, the convention in a resolution demanded immediate release of ULFA leaders for from jail. According to the Indian Army sources, the total strength of ULFA is around 3,000, while various other sources put the figure ranging from 4,000 to 6,000. A military wing of the ULFA, the Sanjukta Mukti Fouj (SMF) was formed on 16 March 1996. SMF has three full-fledged battalions: the 7th, 8th and the 709th. The remaining battalions exist only on paper at best they have strengths of a company or so. Their allocated spheres of operation are as follows:
7th Bn (HQ-Sukhini) is responsible for defence of General Headquarters (GHQ).
8th Bn - Nagaon, Morigaon, Karbi Anglong 9th Bn Golaghat, Jorhat, Sivasagar
11th Bn Kamrup, Nalbari
27th Bn Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Kokrajar
28th Bn Tinsukia, Dibrugarh
709th Bn Kalikhola
In the past decade nearly 2,500 (approximate) militants, including about 200 women cadres have surrendered to the government.
- Insurgency in Northeast India
- Enigma Force
- People's Consultative Group
- Sanjukta Mukti Fouj
- List of terrorist organisations in India
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