Siliguri new regional arms market

As talk of a showdown between the Bhutanese government and north-eastern insurgent groups operating from its soil intensifies, there are reports of increased activity among the gunrunners of Siliguri in West Bengal. According to intelligence sources, the area has become a hub for gunrunners, with active support from China, and the Maoist militants of Nepal, and involves local politicians and former militants of the Naxalbari movement. "China is particularly targetting Siliguri given its proximity to Nepal, Bhutan and the North-east," the sources said. Chinese-made arms and ammunition are being routinely smuggled into Siliguri through Nepal by the Maoist militants. "It's very difficult to rein them in especially since they are backed by politicians," the sources said. Former militants of the Naxalbari movement are meanwhile said to be aiding the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in setting up explosives units.
While the amount of firepower that at the disposal of the ULFA, KLO and NDFB in Bhutan is not certain, what is clear is that the Bhutanese government doesn't consider these groups to be a pushover, considering that it has hired the services of 2,000 "militiamen" to fight the north-eastern ultras alongside the regular Bhutanese army.
"The Chinese are encouraging production of weapons such as the M-22, a self-loading assault rifle that is being transferred to the Siliguri market," the intelligence sources said. Siliguri is now a major market for Chinese-made weapons such as M-20, 9 mm pistols and M-22 assault rifles, apart from Chinese made explosives and detonators. "There are several former Naxalbari militants in Siliguri who can assemble sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with components that are smuggled in from China," the sources said. These devices then find their way to the insurgent outfits in the North-east and Bhutan, the sources said. The ULFA has been known to use IEDs to counter security force offensives in the past, especially when their camps in Lakipathar and Saraipung was attacked during Operation Bajrang in the late '80s.
As for the chosen weapon of the ULFA, the Kalashnikov range of assault rifles, they are, reportedly, not as readily available in Siliguri as they are in Cox Bazar in Bangladesh and parts of Thailand. "Most of the people gunned down in Assam recently were shot with AK-47s," Union Minister for the North-eastern region, CP Thakur recently said, quoting political groups in Assam, following the recent killings of Biharis in the state. The involvement of the KLO incidentally was not ruled out in the shooting of four drivers in Golakganj this month, on the Assam-West Bengal border, an area where the KLO, which is fighting for a separate homeland for the Koch Rajbongshis of North Bengal.

By Bijoy Shankar Handique (newsfiledelhi@rediffmail.com)