Fifth rhino killed, govt steps up security

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Guwahati, Feb 5 (UNI) After the killing of the fifth rhino this year in Assam, the government today announced a slew of security measures, including increasing the staff strength and setting up watch-towers, inside the famous Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in which three rhinos had been killed.

A male rhino was killed in Central Kohora range at about 0645 hrs. The poachers escaped with the horn though forest guards had fired after they heard gun shots, KNP Director Suren Buragohain said.

A massive search operation has been launched to nab the poachers. This is the third death to have taken place in the park.

Two other two rhinos were killed outside the KNP.

Meanwhile, Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain told reporters here the department had decided to step up vigilance in the park immediately.

He said five watch-towers would be set up along the National Highway end that does not fall under the KNP, while 25 new camps would be established in the park area along the NH.

A flying squad would be appointed and five other rapid action units constituted, Mr Hussain said, adding another 100 armed homeguards would be appointed in the KNP soon.

He informed of the sanctioned 504 posts in the KNP, 437 men were in position while only nine posts of foresters and guards were lying vacant. The other vacancies were in non-frontline staff category.

The Minister, however, emphasised that this staff strength was calculated when the park area was 430 sq km, but the area has now increased to 859 sq km.

''The park area will be increased with four new additions that we are working on,'' he said.

Five armed Home Guard sections have been deputed to the KNP while senior Forest Department officials visited the park to assess any loophole as the rhino was killed even after tight security and greater awareness among local people.

Referring to a report submitted on Saturday by an expert committee to suggest measures to stop poaching and other illegal activities in the KNP, Mr Hussain said, ''It (report) is being processed and we will initiate steps very soon, based on its recommendations.'' Besides, increasing staff strength and sophisticated armory for the KNP staff to match that of the poachers, other recommendations include a special task force, appointment of local villagers as informers, camps at every two km along the National Highway stretch that passes through the park and development of communication infrastructure.

The Minister also took a dig at Opposition Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF) and All Assam Students' Union (AASU) for being vocal against him rather than suggesting concrete measures to check poaching.

He alleged his rival powerful factions were involved with the poachers. ''The AUDF and AASU are demanding a CBI inquiry. I have myself written to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today for a CBI probe into the poaching activities. If the Chief Minister asks me, I will also step down as the Forest Minister during the time of probe if that can help in any way,'' he added.

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