Hunger strikes by eminent personalities of Assam, protests, and demands by all major civil organizations and bodies in Assam, assurances by Chief Minister of Assam to take the issue with the center, memorandum to the Prime Minister by Human Rights organization and tearful requests to the Government by families of the concerned did not yield any result for the last eight years. The whereabouts of the five leaders of the Top brass of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), namely Major Bening Rabha, Major Ashanta Baghphukan, Major Jeeban Moran(Senior), Lt Nilu Chakravarty, 2nd Lt Sarat Sarania alias Abhijit Deka along with few others who had been missing since the Operation All-Clear by the joint operation of Indian & Bhutan Royal Army in Bhutan in 2003 was never found. Mentionable that the missing list contains not 13 leaders and cadres as C-in-C Paresh Baruah use to claim, as out of those claimed missing leaders and cadres Lt Pradyut Gohain, Xopon Daimary, etc were proved to be with the outfit.
Finally, it has now been known that these five ULFA leaders who had gone missing in the Operation All-Clear of 2003 have been under secret custody of the Bhutan Government itself in their Jail. The exact location of these ULFA men is not known yet but in the most likelihood, they have been kept together in the same location. This explosive discovery has been made by a special investigation by the Times of Assam.
Evidence has been found that this news is known to the top section of ULFA and that the outfit had never declared this knowledge to the public for the fear that Bhutan might kill the leaders secretly to wash off their hands from allegations. However, it is not yet clear why the Government of India has kept this information secret, as it is highly unlikely that the Indian Government is unaware of this.
Although Bhutan authorities have never agreed or declared that these ULFA leaders are in their custody, it has been understood that Bhutan has long kept these leaders with them as a defense against the probable threats from ULFA after driving them out from their camps in 2003 through the army operation.
It has also been learned that the ULFA is aware of this and has tried to contact the Government of Bhutan for this in the past. ULFA’s Commander of the dreaded 709 Battalion, Heera Saraniya is known to have sent an email to the King of Bhutan as well as to some of the Bhutanese ministers in January 2008 asking them to release the leaders. However, there was no positive response to this from Bhutan authorities and since then ULFA had been carrying out several ambushes on the Bhutan army killing several Bhutanese army men inside their border as a threat to release the leaders. Such ambushes, though kept secret to the Indian media, are known to have created major damages to the Bhutan army in the past.
It is to be mentioned that there have been various demands from civil organizations and bodies in Assam to find out the whereabouts of these five leaders of ULFA who had gone missing in the ULFA- Bhutan Army war in 2003. Such demands include memorandum by the family members of the leaders to the Prime Minister’s office, various protests rallies by Human Rights Organization MASS, and All Assam Student’s Union (AASU). Even several civil societies of Assam including noted cultural pioneers like singer Zubeen Garg and internationally acclaimed filmmaker Jahnu Baruah had staged hunger strike protests demanding their whereabouts to be declared by the government.
With almost the entire section of the ULFA now coming to lateral talks with the Government of India, the presence of these missing ULFA men, who form a part of the central committee of the ULFA would have played a crucial part. Bhutan needs to play the role of a good neighbor and either hand over these men to India or release them for future relationships with its neighbors.