Guwahati: The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom - Independent (Ulfa-I) has threatened to take the "ultimate step" next week on the two employees of the Quippo oil and gas drilling company who are being held captive by the outfit, prompting senior Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to appeal for their release.
The Paresh Barua-led outfit has demanded a ransom of Rs 20 crore for the duo's release and had earlier set February 16 as the deadline.
The two, drilling superintendent Pranab Kumar Gogoi and radio operator Ram Kumar, of the Quippo Oil and Gas Infrastructure, were kidnapped by Ulfa-I rebels on December 21 last year from Kumchaikha hydrocarbon drilling site in Changlang, Arunachal Pradesh. While Mr Gogoi is a native of Assam, Mr Kumar hails from Bihar.
The Ulfa-I in a statement to a local newspaper said, “As the Quippo representatives, after our negotiations between February 16 to 19, failed to provide any fruitful solution to our demands, we have decided to stick to our initial decision and will, accordingly, take the final actions against the two employees.”
The outfit said this in a letter addressing the people of Assam, the governments of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and the families of the kidnapped duo.
"If our instructions are ignored, then in the case of any unfortunate situation, the employees, Quippo authorities, OIL, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh governments will be responsible for the consequences," the outfit said in the email written in Assamese.
The Ulfa-I also warned other Quippo employees to stay away from work and, instead, pressure OIL to rehabilitate them.
Mr Sarma urged Ulfa(I)'s commander-in-chief Paresh Barua "with folded hands" to release the two men unharmed. Mr Sarma said that in the case of any unfortunate incident, the world will again "look upon the Assamese as (members of) Taliban. We do not want any further bloodshed on the soil of India or Assam".
Gurugram-based Quippo was hired by Oil India (OIL) for drilling operations.
Though the exact whereabouts of the kidnapped employees were not known to police, security sources feared that they have been taken to neighbouring Myanmar where a united front of banned outfit United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWSEA) and other rebel bodies have their base camps.
It is significant that the press statement of the outfit was issued jointly by Ulfa-I and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and signed by Rumel Asom, a member of its publicity wing. It also said that if negotiations turn futile, Quippo will be banned from operating anywhere in South East Asia.
The family members of Mr Gogoi and Mr Kumar had recently called on Paresh Barua's brother who also appealed to the Ulfa leader to release the two.
The United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) was formed in 1979 to establish a sovereign Assam through an armed movement. Paresh Barua was once the chief of its military wing. After a split in the organisation in 2011 over the leadership’s decision to join peace talks with the government, he led a faction called Ulfa (Independent)....