Assam, Arunachal bank on confidence-building

The house which was gutted in Charaipung village on Wednesday night. Picture by Mritunjay Das

Dibrugarh, Aug 20 : Assam and Arunachal Pradesh today decided on a slew of confidence-building measures after a nightlong attack by goons from across the boundary and a heavy exchange of fire in the wee hours.
The skirmish had started on Saturday with goons from Arunachal Pradesh, backed by armed Naga militants, attacking villagers in Charaipung, an area along the inter-state boundary and 70km from the district headquarters of Sivasagar in Upper Assam. The attacks continued over the next few days despite the Arunachal Pradesh government assuring Assam of reining in the troublemakers.
Last night, too, around 35 persons entered Assam through No.1 Charaipung area around 10.30pm and burnt down some huts of the labourers of a small tea garden owned by Ranjeet Dutta. A couple of hours later, another group of 50 entered Assam through Assinbasti, also in the Charaipung area, and burnt down the house of a small tea grower, Khagen Hondique.
In the wee hours today, there was heavy exchange of fire across the boundary between police in Assam and Naga militants in Arunachal Pradesh. There were no officially confirmed reports of any casualty from either side but local sources said at least two Naga militants were injured in the exchange of fire.
The police said the continuous onslaught by goons from Arunachal Pradesh indicated the existence of groups over which the official machinery has little or no control.
Assam law and sericulture minister Pranab Gogoi went to Charaipung today to take stock of the situation on the instructions of chief minister Tarun Gogoi. Locals alleged that he did not visit the spots that had come under severe attack during the past few days.
Gogoi was accompanied by Upper Assam commissioner Anand Shankar Tewari, Assam IGP, Eastern Range, L.R. Bisnoi, Sivasagar deputy commissioner N.M. Hussain and SP Akhilesh Singh.
The Assam delegation also held a discussion with an Arunachal Pradesh team, which was led by home minister Tako Dabi, at the bungalow of the manager of Bimalapur garden in Charaipung.
Dabi was accompanied by horticulture minister Honchun Ngandam, parliamentary secretaries Thangwang Wangham and Newlai Tinkatra, home commissioner T. Talo and the deputy inspector-general of police for Arunachal Pradesh’s Tirap and Changlang districts, Robin Hibu, among others.
Gogoi later told reporters at Sonari circuit house, about 30km from Charaipung, that both the sides had agreed to take up confidence-building measures to restore normality in the area.
The joint meeting decided that the police from both sides would conduct joint patrolling of the area and launch joint operations against Naga militants active in the area.
The meeting also decided that Arunachal Pradesh would check providing guns to its subjects. “It had been a traditional custom for tribals in Arunachal Pradesh to keep guns, mostly countrymade ones. However, when these guns are used to attack our people, we cannot be a mute spectator,” Gogoi said.
The meeting also agreed upon the formation of a peace committee which would meet at least once a month. It would comprise public leaders and senior government representatives like magistrates and sub-divisional police officers,
“We do hope that the promises made by our Arunachal Pradesh counterparts will be carried out in true letter and spirit. We made it absolutely clear that Assam would not tolerate any kind of atrocities,” the minister said.
Various organisations, including the All Assam Students Union (AASU), however, expressed doubts about the measures decided upon.
The Sivasagar district general secretary of AASU, Pronobjit Chetia, said they would wait and watch the development for a few days before reacting. “The Arunachal side had made promises earlier too,” he said, adding that the AASU would not be a mute spectator to atrocities on Assam villagers.
Ulfa today expressed anguish over the Assam-Arunachal boundary flare-up, specially the attack on Assam’s villagers by goons from Arunachal Pradesh. An Ulfa release stated the incidents bore signs of instigation by the “Indian colonial rulers” and that it would be “unfortunate” if the NSCN (I-M) was behind the clashes.