Assam – The Eastern Link https://theeasternlink.com Connecting Regions of Asia. Mon, 15 Jun 2020 05:37:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.2 https://theeasternlink.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/cropped-external-link-symbol-32x32.png Assam – The Eastern Link https://theeasternlink.com 32 32 Release Illegals From Assam Prisons: Supreme Court https://theeasternlink.com/release-illegals-from-assam-prisons-supreme-court/ https://theeasternlink.com/release-illegals-from-assam-prisons-supreme-court/#respond Mon, 15 Jun 2020 04:30:00 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=4959

Due to fear of the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic, India’s Supreme Court has directed the Indian federal and the Assam state governments to release ‘illegal foreigners’ held in the state prisons since 13th April, 2020. To avoid overcrowding in prisons, Supreme Court of India has directed release on bail of those prisoners held for two years or […]

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Due to fear of the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic, India’s Supreme Court has directed the Indian federal and the Assam state governments to release ‘illegal foreigners’ held in the state prisons since 13th April, 2020. 
To avoid overcrowding in prisons, Supreme Court of India has directed release on bail of those prisoners held for two years or less , for which they have been asked to furnish two personal bonds worth Rs 5000 each and two sureties of the same amount 

Chief Justice of India S.A.Bobde headed three members bench modified Supreme Courts 2019 order which had allowed such people to leave the detention centre on bail if they had completed three years in detention.
 339 declared foreigners have already been released from prisons in Assam’s Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Silchar, Jorhat and Tezpur central jail detention centres till 10th June.
Earlier in 2019 a petition was filed by human rights activist Harsh Mander seeking release of foreigners who have been detained indefinitely.

After reducing the detention period of declared foreigners from three years to two ,  44 declared foreigners were released from silchar central jail alone. 
Now only four detained declared foreigners are left in Silchar central jail. Their two years term of detention will be completed in 2021.

The Supreme Court ‘s order came up after Justice and Liberty initiative, a human rights body in Guwahati, approached the Chief Justice of India to release all the declared foreigners citing the threat of spread of Covid-19 pandemic.

According to a statement issued by Minister of State for Home, Nityananda Rai in the Rajya Sabha on March 11, there are a total of 802 declared foreigners in detention centres at Goalpara, Tezpur, Jorhat, Kokrajhar, Silchar and Dibrugarh.

(Arpita Dutta is Easternlink contributor in Assam) 

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Two Firemen Found Dead In Assam Gas Blowout Fire https://theeasternlink.com/two-firemen-found-dead-in-assam-gas-blowout-fire/ https://theeasternlink.com/two-firemen-found-dead-in-assam-gas-blowout-fire/#respond Wed, 10 Jun 2020 13:56:11 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=4832

Two people have been killed in the massive fire that broke out at the gas well of Oil India Ltd at Baghjan in Tinsukia district of Assam on Tuesday, 9 June, due to a blowout that has been continuing since 27 May. Their bodies have been recovered. Two Oil India staffers have been suspended for […]

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Two people have been killed in the massive fire that broke out at the gas well of Oil India Ltd at Baghjan in Tinsukia district of Assam on Tuesday, 9 June, due to a blowout that has been continuing since 27 May. Their bodies have been recovered.

Two Oil India staffers have been suspended for alleged negligence in this case, PTI cited officials.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal spoke to PM Narendra Modi. In his tweets, he said, “He (PM) assured of all possible help to resolve the situation and provide relief to victims.”

Following this, the PM’s office also tweeted, saying, “PM assured all possible support from the Centre. The situation is being monitored closely.”

An NDTV report quoted CM as saying the experts believe that they need around 25-28 days to control the situation. According to Oil India, a number of houses, vehicles, small gardens and some forest areas were burnt due to fire, PTI reported.

The Baghjan Oil Well located near the Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Assam has been blowing out since over two weeks. What started as an oil spill and gas leak due to the failure of pressure control systems, has now turned into a massive fire.

Fire flames continued to erupt from the gas well. A team of State Disaster Response Force and fire engines is present at the spot.

Over 2,000 people living around the field have been moved to relief camps since the blowout began. Most of them have also complained of losing their livestock and agricultural fields, and have staged protests seeking due compensation.

Congress MP Pradyut Bordoloi on Tuesday, 9 June, tweeted a picture of the blowout and said, “It’s almost a fortnight the Baghjan oil well in the vicinity of Dibru Saikhowa National Park in upper Assam has been blowing out with fury at a huge cost to flora and fauna, homesteads, agriculture and environment.”

Singapore-Based Firm to Plug the Blowout

On Sunday, 7 June, a three-member expert team from a Singapore-based emergency management firm reached Assam’s Tinsukia district to plug the blowout on the request of State-owned Oil India Limited (OIL).

“There is a drilling mobile rig on the top of the blowout site and there are a number of iron pipes hanging over it, so there’s a high possibility that the wind could have caused a speak in those pipes,” Scroll quoted Tridiv Hazarika, the company’s spokesperson, as saying.

An OIL press release said that after the preliminary discussion and de-briefing session, the experts from Singapore’s ‘Alert Disaster Control’, led by Michael Ernest Allcorn, along with the OIL team, reached Baghjan well site in the Monday afternoon.

“The experts from Alert complimented OIL for all the preparatory works carried out so far and mentioned that based on their wide experience of handling over a thousand blowouts in around 135 countries all over the world under different conditions, they are confident of controlling the well at the earliest with necessary support from OIL,” read the press release.

They also said the testing of other well controlled equipments is in progress at OIL’s drilling yard.

As many as 650 families, comprising 2,500 people, have been shifted to three relief camps after the OIL’s oil well at the Baghjan village started releasing natural gas into the air after a leak on 27 May. OIL will pay Rs 30,000 as immediate relief to each impacted family.

Claiming that no human life has been lost due to release of natural gas, crude oil spillage or condensate during the past several years, OIL denied local media reports that four persons died at nearby Natun Gaon village due to pollution from the blowout.

According to OIL, associated condensates coming out with the gas are water sprayed and collected in a pond near the well site and then transported to Duliajan.

Utmost care has been taken to check spillage of condensate to surrounding areas, it said, adding that a barricade has been created around the well site to prevent the contaminated water runoff to surrounding and nearby water bodies.

Environmentalists & Activists Raise Concerns

Meanwhile, many environmentalists, academics, wildlife experts, writers, social activists and journalists have expressed concern over the environmental consequences of the blowout near the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, a biodiversity hotspot.

In a statement, they said the Baghjan oilfield was located next to the Maguri-Motapung wetland, part of the eco-sensitive zone of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, known for migratory birds and feral horses. The villagers of this area were dependent upon the wetland and the Dangori and Dibru rivers in the Baghjan area for livelihood, they said.

(With inputs from IANS)

Easternlink adds from Guwahati: 
Assam Pradesh Congress has lashed out over the blowout and fire at Baghjan.
Its spokesperson Bobbeeta Sarmah said her party had four clear issues on this blowout which needs to be addressed.
* the failure of the Oil India authorities and sub-contractor John Energy to control the blow at the GGS and prevent the fire , on which 2 firemen have died so far 
* the abject lack of attention to such a serious disaster by the Union Petroleum Ministry and the Centre where the present incumbent minister ‘never loose a chance to shed cosmetic tears for Assam and Northeast’ 
* the lackadaiscal attitude of the state government and ‘ its know-all, solve-all ministers’ who have not pushed the Centre to get the right kind of solutions provider to control the blowout and fire which has caused huge damage to local ecology and livelihoods
* the watering down of eligibility and experience criterion in alloting sub-contracts by Petroleum Ministry to allow crony capitalists close to the ruling dispensation to bag lucrative contracts now stands exposed due to the failure to control the blowout 14 days after it happened.
Ms Sarmah demanded an independent enquiry by ‘appropriate professional institutions’ into the blowout and punishment for those  responsible for dereliction of duty.’

(The story has been published in an arrangement with The Quint.)

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Myanmar’s 22 rebels Handover : Act Of Friendship Or Strategic Trade-off ? https://theeasternlink.com/myanmars-22-rebels-handover-act-of-friendship-or-strategic-trade-off/ https://theeasternlink.com/myanmars-22-rebels-handover-act-of-friendship-or-strategic-trade-off/#respond Thu, 21 May 2020 05:54:24 +0000 https://theeasternlink.com/?p=4019

Myanmar’s recent deportation to India of 22 ethnic Assam and Meitei rebels marks a new level of cooperation between the two neighboring countries. But the question that immediately arises is: Is this part of a trade-off? And if so, what can Myanmar expect from it? One thing is already clear, however. The move sends a […]

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Myanmar’s recent deportation to India of 22 ethnic Assam and Meitei rebels marks a new level of cooperation between the two neighboring countries. But the question that immediately arises is: Is this part of a trade-off? And if so, what can Myanmar expect from it?

One thing is already clear, however. The move sends a strong message to Indian rebels active along the border that Myanmar will be taking a tougher stance against them from now on.

The 22 Indian rebels had been held in prisons in Myanmar since their arrest during a military operation conducted along the border with India from January to March last year.

On Friday, a special plane landed in Khamti, Sagaing Region, picked up the 22 rebels and flew them to India.

Shortly after the plane landed, a senior Indian official announced, “This is a huge step for the Myanmar government and a reflection of the deepening ties between the two countries.”

Other Indian officials acknowledged that the operation was part of a larger campaign of backdoor diplomacy.

News reports linked 12 of the 22 insurgents to four rebel groups based in India’s Manipur State: the United Liberation Front of Asom (or Assam) (ULFA), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The remaining 10 were linked to Assam State groups the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO).

It is difficult to know how many Indian rebels remain active on the Myanmar side of the border, but some observers familiar with ethnic armed insurgencies put the figure at between 2,000 and 3,000. There are at least six Manipur rebel groups active on Myanmar territory in addition to Naga rebels belonging to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K).

The UNLF is one of the strongest currently active in frontier areas, with some 2,000 members, informed sources say.

In Sagaing Region it has bases in Tamu Township, in western Homalin Township, and in the Naga Self-Administered Zone.

The rebels have also received military training from Myanmar insurgent groups including the Kachin Independence Army, as well as from former communists who are veterans of the now defunct Communist Party of Burma.

Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner, author of several books on Myanmar and ethnic insurgencies, wrote in the Asia Times: “Ethnic insurgents opposed to New Delhi’s rule have maintained cross-border sanctuaries in Myanmar since the late 1960s. Previously, these rebel groups were known to trek through northern Myanmar’s rugged and mountainous terrain into China, where they historically have received guns and military training.”

In the past, these rebels received support from China, particularly around the time Beijing and New Delhi fought a bloody war in 1962.

Today, China appears to have ended direct support for the Indian rebels, but Lintner added, “Manipuri and Assamese rebel leaders are still given sanctuary in China’s southern Yunnan province.”

Until now, Indian rebels have enjoyed relative freedom to set up camps and fight for autonomy and separation from India on the Myanmar side of the two countries’ porous border, which stretches for more than 1,600 kilometers.

The longstanding border insurgency issue has been a constant irritant to bilateral relations, serving to fuel suspicion of Myanmar in New Delhi.

But Myanmar’s generals have begun to develop closer relations with New Delhi of late as a way to counter China’s growing assertiveness and influence. The strategy is part of a geopolitical rebalancing of old and new partners in which Myanmar seeks to diversify its alliances.

It is important to note that over the last five years, India and Myanmar have deepened ties, as well as defense cooperation between the two countries’ militaries.

In 2019, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s nine-day visit to India marked a milestone in defense cooperation between the neighbors.

“Myanmar is a key pillar of India’s Act East Policy towards prioritizing relations with its East Asian neighbors,” reads an Indian Ministry of Defense statement released at the time. “India has steadily increased defense cooperation with Myanmar in recent years.”

The defense cooperation between Myanmar and India includes reviewing joint exercises, training Myanmar military personnel, strengthening maritime security via joint surveillance, capacity building, enhancing medical cooperation, cooperating on pollution responses and jointly developing new infrastructure, according to a statement from the Indian Ministry of Defense.

India transferred one of its Russian-made Kilo-class diesel-electric attack submarines (Myanmar’s first submarine) to the Myanmar Navy later in 2019.

The sale followed the Indian and Myanmar navies’ maiden joint exercise in the Bay of Bengal in March 2018.

Myanmar also seeks New Delhi’s assistance in fighting the Arakan Army in Rakhine and Chin states.

Myanmar desperately wants ground intelligence, satellite images of AA bases and movements, information on arms smuggling routes, and intelligence on Muslim extremists who are active in northern Rakhine, including in the Mayu Mountain Range, and have strong links to the Middle East and Pakistan.

This is not the first time Myanmar and India have cooperated to track down separatist insurgents.

When Myanmar was under the military regime, New Delhi courted top military leaders including Vice Senior General Maung Aye, who was No. 2 in Myanmar’s ruling council. He served in both the State Law and Order Restoration Council and its successor, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye visited India several times and developed close ties with both government and military leaders in the country.

As an interesting counterpoint to this relationship, General Khin Nyunt, then Secretary 1 of the SPDC, was known to be close to China.

The army faction often accused Gen. Khin Nyunt’s powerful intelligence group of allowing Indian rebels to operate in Myanmar territory and of turning a blind eye to arms smuggling. Many Indian rebels buy arms, ammunition and explosives from black markets in Southeast Asia, including from Thailand.

In any case, after a long power struggle with the infantry faction, then intelligence chief and prime minister Gen. Khin Nyunt was ousted in 2004.

In Myint Thu’s 2014 biography of the late Prime Minister General Soe Win (no relation to current deputy commander-in-chief Vice Senior General Soe Win) the general describes how he confronted the Indian rebels active in Sagaing Region.

As a regional commander posted to the Myanmar military’s Northwestern Command, Gen. Soe Win kept informed of the movements and activities of rebels from India’s Manipur and Nagaland states, but difficult terrain and infrastructure problems hampered his ability to confront them.

He also accompanied his boss Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye to India and received a request from leaders there to take care of the issue of rebels in Myanmar territory. “We don’t have a policy to harbor insurgents nor refugee camps… As we do with Thailand, we share a border with India… rebels often cross back and forth,” Gen. Soe Win said. But in the book the general admitted there are over 30 rebel groups from India active along the border.

Under his command, some Naga rebels were ambushed and slaughtered, but tracking down Manipur rebels and their hidden caches in Tamu posed a serious challenge.

He also needed clearance from headquarters for such operations, due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

Finally, in the early 2000s, his troops succeeded in capturing a major haul of weapons at a house in Tamu, a town on the Indian border.

More than 900 brand-new M21 automatic rifles and 9mm pistols, satellite communications equipment and a cache of ammunition were seized. The weapons and ammunition had been hidden in spaces underground and in the ceiling of the safe house. Several rebel leaders who had come from Manipur to inspect the weapons were also apprehended. The weapons belonged to the UNLF group, which had planned to send them to India shortly thereafter, according to the book. In fact, Indian intelligence had informed Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye of the intended date of arrival of those weapons on the Indian side. If Gen. Soe Win had not been able to raid the house and seize the cache on time, Myanmar would have lost face. The operation no doubt pleased New Delhi.

Perhaps more interesting was the route the weapons had taken. As described in Gen. Soe Win’s biography, the Chinese-made weapons had made their way to Tamu via Yangon Port. “The weapons went to Bangladesh first…” according to the book, “then arrived in Yangon.”

The weapons were unloaded at the port without going through any security checks, the author of the general’s biography cites him as saying.

The weapons were then shipped in a container to Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, without any trouble, according to Gen. Soe Win’s account.

Customs officials and police were kept in the dark about the container’s contents; they took bribes and allowed it through their checkpoints.

Once in Mandalay, the automatic rifles and ammunition were hidden in extra gasoline tanks attached to trucks and shipped to Tamu.

That was in the early 2000s, when Myanmar was under the widely feared military regime. Rebels had little problem bringing lethal weapons into the jungle to fight their causes.

Indeed, numerous such shipments have escaped the attention of authorities and made their way to various rebel headquarters along the border.

Today, weapons continue to flow into rebels’ hands, and arms smugglers and brokers are enjoying something of heyday, making a fortune in Myanmar.

Perhaps some of the rebels recently deported to India will be able to enlighten Indian authorities about their operational activities, and the routes and safe houses they use along the Myanmar-India border.

But the Myanmar generals and government are playing a much more sophisticated game.

The handover of the rebels to India is part of Naypyitaw’s long game—perhaps we could call it a trade-off—aimed at winning the trust and favor of New Delhi.

Courtesy – Irrawaddy

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