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United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA)

United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA)

LEADER(S): Arabinda Rajkhowa, Paresh Baruah

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1979

ESTIMATED SIZE: 3,000-4,000, including around a hundred women cadres

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: India, primarily the northeastern state of Assam

OVERVIEW

The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) is an extremist organization reportedly formed in 1979, in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. The group was thought to be formed by a few Assamese rebels with the purpose of forming a separate country of Assam, independent of Indian rule.

As of 2005, the ULFA still exists and continues with its same objectives. Since the early 1980s, the group has been reportedly involved in various terrorist operations in Assam and other northeastern states of India. The organization is also known as United Liberation Front of Asom.

HISTORY

The ULFA was reportedly formed on April 7, 1979, by a group of students belonging to the All Assam Students' Union—a union that was considered by many as anti-foreigner. Analysts state that ULFA was formed to promote an armed struggle against the government of India in order to create an independent country of Assam that would be ruled by socialists.

The group was relatively inactive until the mid 1980s. There were some reports of hiring during the early 1980s; however, no activities were carried out during this period. In 1986, ULFA established associations with two other similar organizations in Assam and neighboring states—the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). According to published reports, it was during this period that the group stepped up its fund-gathering activities. Significant funds were collected, reportedly through extortions from businesses and trading houses.

Anti-terrorism experts also maintain that the ULFA in the late 1980s had established strong links with the Assam Gana Parishad (AGP), the ruling party of Assam at the time. It is thought that leaders of the ULFA influenced many members of the AGP as well as the police force in Assam. Following such allegations in 1990, the Indian government banned ULFA and employed measures to counter the threat posed by the group. The state was also declared as a "troubled state" by the government.

After being banned by the government, the group started using violent tactics. Throughout the 1990s (and early 2000s), members of the ULFA claimed responsibility for numerous killings and kidnappings. The group is thought to mainly target state government buildings, security personnel, rail infrastructure, and politicians who opposed their ideologies.

In 1996, per published reports, the ULFA formed its own military wing, the Sanjukta Mukti Fouj (SMF). Anti-terrorism experts claim that this wing was formed specifically to plan and carry out terrorist activities against the government and security forces. During the 1990s, the organization is also thought to have set up training camps in neighboring countries such as Bhutan and Bangladesh. The total numbers of these training camps is reportedly in the thousands.

As of 2005, according to Indian intelligence reports, most leaders of ULFA are based in various cities in Bangladesh. Although since the early 2000s many ULFA militants have been reportedly arrested (or have surrendered), the group remains active and poses a major threat to the state government of Assam as well as the central Indian government.

PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS

The United Liberation Front of Assam was formed with the aim of "liberating" Assam from India. Its leaders propose a socialist government to rule an independent country of Assam. The ULFA has adopted violent tactics in order to achieve its objectives. Since the early 1990s, several people have been killed and extensive damage has been caused to property as a result of the terrorist acts carried out by the group.

The operations of ULFA have been primarily aimed at government officials as well as security force personnel in Assam. The group claims that Assam can be liberated only through an armed struggle against the government of India. According to Indian intelligence reports, in the last two decades, ULFA militants have killed hundreds of security force personnel, and also many civilians as well as political leaders. Since the early 2000s, ULFA militants have reportedly targeted a number of public installations and civilian structures, causing significant damage to property as well as human life. Indian authorities allege that the group has also carried out a number of extortions and kidnappings in exchange for exorbitant ransoms.

In fact, as thought by the Indian government and monitor groups, extortion from businesses is the main source of funding for the ULFA. The group has also been charged with extensive drug trafficking from neighboring countries. Analysts state that the money generated from drug trafficking is used to buy arms and explosives. According to published reports, the organization also engages in legal business holdings in other countries, especially Bangladesh. These reports suggest that ULFA has a number of legal businesses in various cities of Bangladesh, another source of funding for the group.

LEADERSHIP

ARABINDA RAJKHOWA

Arabinda Rajkhowa (also known as Rajiv Rajkonwar) is reportedly the chairman of the ULFA. He is also the co-founder of the group and has been the mastermind of several terrorist activities. Rajkhowa is allegedly based in Bangladesh and is also thought to have links with Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's intelligence agency.

The United Liberation Front of Assam has many other prominent leaders. These include Paresh Baruah, Pradeep Gogoi, and Anup Chetia. According to published reports, both Pradeep Gogoi and Anup Chetia are in jail. Arabinda Rajkhowa and Paresh Baruah are the heads of the civil and military wings of ULFA.

KEY EVENTS

1990:
ULFA is banned by the Indian government following increase in anti-terrorist activities; Assam is declared a "troubled state" and the president's rule is established.
1992:
ULFA claims responsibility for killing ten security personnel from the Indian military.
1994:
Pradeep Gogoi, Vice Chairman of ULFA, arrested.
1995–1996:
More than thirty, including security force personnel, police officials, and local political leaders, killed by ULFA militants.
1996:
Sanjukta Mukti Fouj (SMF), the military wing of ULFA, formed.

The ULFA has a distinct civil and a military wing. The military wing, Sanjukta Mukti Fauj, is thought to be the unit responsible for organizing and performing terrorist activities. The organizational structure is reportedly divided into three categories: the Central unit, the Districts unit, and the Anachalik unit. The Central unit comprises of the central leadership of the group. The District unit is categorized into four subsections depending on the districts they target: the East District Zone, the West District Zone, the Central District Zone, and the South District Zone. Each zone is thought to have a president who reports to central leadership. Within the district units, the group is further divided into Anachalik units. These are comprised of the villages in a particular district. Reportedly, each anachalik unit also has a president.

PRIMARY SOURCE
United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA)

DESCRIPTION

Northeast India's most prominent insurgent group, ULFA—an ethnic secessionist organization in the Indian state of Assam, bordering Bangladesh and Bhutan—was founded on April 7, 1979 at Rang Ghar, during agitation organized by the state's powerful students' union. The group's objective is an independent Assam, reflected in its ideology of "Oikya, Biplab, Mukti" ("Unity, Revolution, Freedom"). ULFA enjoyed widespread support in upper Assam in its initial years, especially in 1985–1992. ULFA's kidnappings, killings and extortion led New Delhi to ban the group and start a military offensive against it in 1990, which forced it to go underground. ULFA began to lose popularity in the late 1990s after it increasingly targeted civilians, including a prominent NGO activist. It lost further support for its anti-Indian stand during the 1999 Kargil War.

ACTIVITIES

ULFA trains, finances, and equips cadres for a "liberation struggle" while extortion helps finance military training and weapons purchases. ULFA conducts hit and run operations on security forces in Assam, selective assassinations, and explosions in public places. During the 1980s–1990s, ULFA undertook a series of abductions and murders, particularly of businessmen. In 2000, ULFA assassinated an Assam state minister. In 2003, ULFA killed more than sixty "outsiders" in Assam, mainly residents of the bordering state of Bihar. Following the December 2003 Bhutanese Army's attack on ULFA camps in Bhutan, the group is believed to have suffered a setback. Some important ULFA functionaries surrendered in Assam, but incidents of violence, though of a lesser magnitude than in the past, continue. On August 14, one civilian was killed and eighteen others injured when ULFA militants triggered a grenade blast inside a cinema hall at Gauripur in Dhubri district. The next day, at an Indian Independence Day event, a bomb blast in Dhemaji killed an estimated thirteen people, including six children, and injured twenty-one.

STRENGTH

ULFA's earlier numbers (3,000 plus) dropped following the December 2003 attack on its camps in Bhutan. Total cadre strength now is estimated at 700.

LOCATION/AREA OF OPERATIONS

ULFA is active in the state of Assam, and its workers are believed to transit (and sometimes conduct operations in) parts of neighboring Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland. All ULFA camps in Bhutan are reportedly demolished. The group may have linkages with other ethnic insurgent groups active in neighboring states.

EXTERNAL AID

ULFA reportedly procures and trades in arms with other Northeast Indian groups, and receives aid from unknown external sources.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.

According to Indian intelligence reports, the ULFA over the years has established associations with numerous militant groups in India (particularly in the northeastern states) and in those situated in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh and Bhutan. Training camps have allegedly been set up in these countries. The Indian government also claims that the ULFA has links with Pakistan's ISI, an agency that is accused of training ULFA militants in the past.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

Indian government officials have often publicly condemned the terrorist activities of the ULFA. It has accused the ULFA of disrupting democratic elections in Assam. For instance, in 2001 during Assam state elections, various terrorist acts were reported. The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs issued a statement that read: "The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has taken a serious view of the recent incidents of violence perpetrated by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). The Ministry observes that the objective of these senseless killings of contesting candidates and political activists and workers by the ULFA is to vitiate the poll process for the general elections to the State Assembly in Assam. The Government of India is committed to ensure a free and fair poll in Assam."

The statement further read: "The ULFA is committing anti-democratic acts at the behest of the ISI [of Pakistan] and other foreign agencies inimical to India. Area dominance by the security forces in parts of Assam bordering Bhutan has been intensified. Having amassed ill-gotten money by extortions, the ULFA and NDFB are running camps in Bhutan by recruiting innocent youth of the State."

In 2004, world leaders supported the Indian government's measures of anti-terrorism in the northeastern region. After a series of blasts allegedly carried out by the ULFA in Assam in October 2004, the U.S. Ambassador to India, David C. Mulford, wrote to the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, stating, "Should you find it helpful, the FBI would be pleased to provide technical support for your investigation."

SUMMARY

Since 1995, the Indian Security Force has reportedly arrested several hundred cadres of the ULFA. As thought by analysts and monitor groups, the terrorist activities have been reduced. Media reports indicate that both the Indian government and the ULFA leaders have taken some steps to hold talks in order to resolve their key issues. However, such talks have failed to stop terrorist activities in Assam.

Many ULFA militants have reportedly surrendered and are now assisting Indian security forces in counterterrorism operations in the region. As of 2005, the group still commands a sizeable strength and is thought to be a potent threat to peace initiatives in the state of Assam.

SOURCES

Web sites

Asia Times Online. "A New Dimension in India's Northeast Woes." 〈http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/FJ23Df02.html〉 (accessed October 1, 2005).

Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. "Ministry of Home Affairs Reviews Security Scenario in Assam." 〈http://mha.nic.in/pr052001.htm〉 (accessed October 1, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Group Profile: United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA)." 〈http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=3686〉 (accessed October 1, 2005).

South Asian Terrorism Portal. "United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA)—Terrorist Group of Assam." 〈http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/assam/terrorist_outfits/ulfa.htm〉 (accessed October 1, 2005).

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