A picture of NFLT hit squad in the jungles of North Tripura bordering Mizoram and Bangladesh Photo: Papan Das
Tripura has been portrayed as a role model in the entire Northeast for its success in curbing insurgency. For past three years, Tripura has been one of the most peaceful states in Northeast. The fencing of the 856 km long Indo-Bangladesh border in Tripura, the mass surrenders by rebels and rural development has ensured peace. It is also speculated that the Union Home Ministry was even thinking about lifting the ban on National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and declaring Tripura ‘insurgency free.’
However, TEHELKA has learned from sources that the NLFT, led by its chairman Bishwamohan Debbarma, is regrouping in Bangladesh and neighboring Mizoram. The group is planning a series of attacks in the state, ahead of the 2013 Assembly polls, that will decide the fate of the Left Front government that has been in power for 19 years.
The outfit is also part of the ‘United Front’ of Northeast rebel group, that is said to have been formed after United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and Manipur’s United National Liberation Front (UNLF) leaders were nabbed in Dhaka and handed over to India in 2009. According to intelligence sources, the ‘United Front’ is being led by the supremo of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang faction) SS Khaplang. It is NSCN (K) which is helping NLFT with arms procurement. The regrouping endeavour of NLFT suffered a major setback when Assam Rifles troopers nabbed NLFT finance department in-charge Utpal Debbarma from Mizoram’s capital city Aizawl.
While outfits like Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) and NSCN (K) have helped the rebel group recruit new members, around 30 rebels of NLFT who had earlier surrendered and joined the mainstream, have reportedly returned back to the NLFT bases in Bangladesh, sources added. Most of the rebels, who surrendered, have been beneficiaries of the rehabilitation packages by the government.
“Through NSCN (K), NLFT has procured a huge consignment of arms which was supplied near Sajeek area in Rangamati of Bangladesh. The rebel outfit maintains a base in that area. The consignment consists of sophisticated that include landmines, grenades, SLRs, INSAS rifles, LMGs, Swarovski Z3 rifles, pistols, ammunition, gelatin sticks and RDX, the military intelligence officer further added. Two trainers from NSCN (K) are in the base of NLFT, training its fresh recruits. GNLA is sending NLFT a trainer for handling explosives,” confirmed a senior military intelligence officer.
NLFT was formed in 1989, with an idea of Tripura’s secession from India. The outfit has suffered multiple splits over the years, with most of its leaders like Nayanbashi Jamatia, Kamini Debbarma and Montu Koloi surrendering under government rehabilitation packages. But its chairman Bishwamohan Debbarma is still at large, possibly in Bangladesh.
According to sources in the state home department, NLFT has abducted more than 30 people from remote tribal villages in 2012. Apart from Bangladesh, NLFT continues to maintain strategic hideouts in Mizoram. Recently, six workers of an Assam-based firm, who were working in a fencing site on the Mizoram-Bangladesh border, were abducted by NLFT rebels. NLFT had demanded a ransom of Rs 1.25 crores and later released the workers after the firm reportedly paid Rs 60 lakhs. “NLFT will be carrying on this extortion and kidnapping drive because it has sent its people in two small batches to Myanmar to get trained by NSCN (K). Khaplang is helping NLFT revive since he is leading the new ‘United Front’ but training and arms do not come for free,” the military intelligence officer added.
The estimated cadre strength of NLFT is around 130 and they have recruited nearly 50 new boys, apart from some young tribal girls. NLFT commanders Atahrababu Halam, Chatrabhanga Jamatia and Sachin Debbarma are in charge of this ‘revival mode’. They are also coordinating with NSCN (K) members in Bangladesh for arms and training and the link has been established through GNLA and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). According to sources in Assam Rifles that leads anti-insurgency operations in Tripura, NLFT is using its former cadres in recruitment drives. Some minor boys have also been lured into joining the outfit. “We have inputs that at least six minor boys in North Tripura have joined NLFT over the past four months. They have picked up the trick of recruiting minors from GNLA,” said an Assam Rifles commandant operating in Tripura on conditions of anonymity.
Although NLFT is carrying out extortion in the remote areas of Tripura, they plan to launch guerilla attacks in the state capital Agartala as the polls approach. NLFT has been asking for their share of the payment of MNREGA from the poor tribals. The rebel outfit is said to have sent notices to remote tribal villages in North Tripura and Dhalai district that every MNREGA card holder will have to give 10 percent of his/her earning through MNREGA as donation to the rebel outfit or face the consequences. The ruling Left Front has always accused NLFT of supporting the opposition forces during elections in the state.
Khaplang and ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Barua have been instrumental in the formation of the new ‘United Front’. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur is also active in the front. The other groups who have come together are People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), the Noyon group of Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) and Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA). The coordination is mainly for supplying weapons, training and also providing safe haven to the cadres of various outfits.
The other rebel outfit – All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) – is now almost defunct and a large number of cadres of ATTF have in fact joined NLFT with a huge cache of arms. With the Issac–Muivah faction of NSCN not being a part of the newly formed ‘United Front’ of Northeast rebels, NLFT is now banking on NSCN (K) for its twin objectives – revival of cadre strength and carrying out attacks in Tipura’s capital Agartala ahead of the 2013 Assembly polls in the state.
Ratnadip Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka. firstname.lastname@example.org