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Police recover large cache of sophisticated arms in the Darjeeling Hills

By Amitava

Darjeeling, October 13: The recovery of a large cache of sophisticated arms and ammunition near Darjeeling on Friday along with a haul of improvised arms, explosives and IEDs in Pedong, in the Kalimpong district, is a clear indicator of the fast-changing brand of politics in the Hills of North Bengal.

Incidentally, on June 15 this year violence had erupted in the Darjeeling Hills following a raid at the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) party office at Patleybash.

The police had entered the party office and recovered arrows, cross-bow, firecrackers, slingshots, khukuris, axes, binocular and radio sets, an improvised arm along with cash.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha immediately called for an indefinite general bandh in the Hills. The bandh finally continued for 104 days.

The GJM had jeered the recovery stating that the police and the State Government were trying to paint the picture of a violent agitation, a conspiracy to derail the Gorkhaland agitation.

Sophisticated arms and ammunition seized in Darjeeling

Sophisticated arms and ammunition seized in Darjeeling

GJM President Bimal Gurung had cried hoarse stating that he and his party always subscribed to the democratic path and that the agitation is democratic and non violent in nature.

Then came the spate of IED explosions targeted mainly at police station. An IED explosion in Kalimpong on July 19 had claimed the life of Civic Police Volunteer Rakesh Rawat (31 years).

However, Friday's arms recovery stands to negate Gurung's claims of a democratic and non violent agitation.

Police pay ceremonial respects to the slain officer

Police pay ceremonial respects to the slain officer

26 year old Sub Inspector of Police Amitava Malik also lost his life in an exchange of fire between Gurung's supporters and the police on Friday. A police officer and a constable are grievously injured.

Incidentally Gurung is implicated in a number of cases. Charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) he is one the run. There is a Look-out notice and an arrest warrant in his name.

"We had specific information that Gurung was camping in the jungles of Sirubari below Lapchey-bustee. Accordingly we planned a raid," stated Akhilesh Chaturvedi, Superintendent of Police, Darjeeling.

There was an advance party led by Nagendra Tripathi, Commanding Officer of the 10th Batallion along with Rahul Pandey, DSP (Head Quarters,) Darjeeling along with Saumojit Roy, Inspector-in-charge of Darjeeling Sadar Police station . The SP and the ASP were present in the backup team.

The teams left for the raid in the wee hours of Friday. Leaving their vehicles at Lapchey bustee around 25km from Darjeeling town, the teams continued on foot through tea gardens and forest.

The team was nearing the riverbed when they were ambushed. "Gurung was camping near the riverbed with Gorkhaland Personnel. To facilitate his escape they cover fired. The police retaliated. SI Amitava Malik was martyred" stated the SP.

Injured policeman being brought to the Darjeeling hospital

Injured policeman being brought to the Darjeeling hospital

Gurung and his men are believed to have escaped by crossing the River Chota Rangeet and entering Sikkim.

"We found blood trails on the other side of the river pointing to the fact that they too were injured" added the SP.

On conducting a search operation 9 AK47s, a .22 bore musket; 1800 rounds of ammunition, 20 gelatin sticks; 1000 detonators; 1 Beretta pistol; 2 tents and camping equipment; 1 sophisticated binocular and a radio man pack were recovered from the area.

"While Gurung and his men fled they left behind the arms and ammunition. We arrested a person. On questioning him we came to know about many things. Gurung and his men had been camping in this area for more than a month. We recovered important documents and identification documents from here" stated the SP.

Police have preferred not to disclose the identity of the person arrested for investigation purpose.

Police claim that Gurung has been seen in the past few days along with his men in this area. They have been walking around armed.

Improvised arms and explosives recovered in Kalimpong

Improvised arms and explosives recovered in Kalimpong

While the raids were on in the Sirubari forest area, a police recovery van was torched at Limbubustee. Kumar Tamang, the police driver was beaten up badly and left in the bushes thinking he had died. Later police rescued him and he was admitted at the Darjeeling Sadar Hospital.

"We feel that these arms were smuggled in from North East with the help of North East insurgent outfits. All these activities are part of their Do or die proclamation." alleged Chaturvedi.

Incidentally former Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) member of the Tukdah-Glenburn constituency Sanjay Thulung alias Sanjay Rai, who had been absconding had made a sudden appearance on August 29. He had stated that the Gorkhaland demand should not be compromised.

He is wanted by both the Darjeeling police and the Assam police in connection with the Assam Arms case. He had then stated, "We do not need outside help. We are capable by ourselves. During the 1980s we had launched a violent agitation on our own. Time is ripe for the Government to pay serious heed to our demand."

On November 8, 2014, along with some incriminating documents and cash of Rs 10,000, the Assam Police had recovered an M-16 rifle, two Beretta pistols, three .32 pistols, 300 rounds of 9 mm pistol, 80 rounds of AK series assault rifles, 198 rounds ammunitions of M-16 and 60 rounds of .32 pistol from a vehicle bearing West Bengal registration Number (WB74A 4788) travelling from Dimapur in Nagaland to West Bengal.

One Ganesh Chettri (53), resident of Baksa district of Assam along with Umesh Kami (29) of Lankapara, Alipurduar District of West Bengal were arrested from the vehicle. They had named Sanjay Thulung alias Sanjay Rai in connection with the case. Thulung who was the Vice President of Gorkha Janmukti Yuva Morcha had absconded.

As per intelligence sources Thulung had procured the Tata Safari (WB74A4788) for Rs. 14 lakhs in Kami's name. Incidentally Kami, a Gorkhaland Personnel (GLP- voluntary force affiliated to the GJM) had got acquainted with Thulung in 2012.

He had personally visited Nagaland and allegedly procured the consignment for Rs. 15 lakhs. The duo had specially modified the Tata Safari in Nagaland to accommodate the hidden chamber in which the arms were smuggled. Thulung had struck a deal with Kami and had assured him a payment of Rs. 50,000/- per consignment delivered.

Thulung had further promised Kami that after delivery of 2 to 3 more consignments, the Tata Safari would be given to Kami. Thulung had then returned to Darjeeling. As per plans Kami started from Dimapur with the consignment. The other person Ganesh Chettri was scheduled to join him in Assam. The consignment was to be delivered to Rai at Champasari on the fringes of Siliguri.

Chhetri is a member of a militant outfit called the United Gorkha People's Organisation, based in Assam. Assam police claimed that the consignment was to be delivered to Thulung.

During interrogation the two had revealed that 15 Gorkhaland Personnel (GLP, a voluntary force affiliated to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha) along with others had undergone 14 days arms training in Nagaland in 2013 with the intention of launching an armed movement for separate state of Gorkhland, under the banner of Gorkha Liberation Army (GLA.) Thulung had allegedly paid Rs. 13.3 Lakhs for the training.

The duo had further revealed that members of the banned militant outfit of Nagaland - the NSCN had held a number of meetings in Darjeeling Hotels.

In another incident the Kalimpong police also recovered a huge cache of arms on Friday evening from Pedong.

"We have been keeping a track on certain people including Dawa Lepcha of Pedong. On Friday we received specific information that one Suman Chettri associated with Namgyal Bhutia (Dawa Lepcha's driver) was amassing arms and explosives in his house" stated Ajit Kumar Yadav, SP, Kalimpong.

Chettri's house along with the house of his uncle Buddha Rai located at Sakyong in Pedong were raided.

"We recovered improvised guns including 12 bore guns; gelatin sticks, power gel; pipes; pipe cutters required for manufacturing IEDs along with socket bombs along with khukuris (Gorkha traditional sword.) Intelligence inputs are that the IEDS and arms would be used against the police particularly to spread terror" added Yadav.

One Vivek Rai and Rakhi Chettri, wife of Suman Chettri were arrested. Two others have been detained for interrogation. "Cases have been started and they have been charged under the UAPA" added Yadav.

Roshan Giri, general Secretary, GJM in a press release stated "To tarnish the image of the GJM and to brand it a militant organization the West Bengal police is showing the seizure of arms and ammunition from the Tukvar area. The arms and ammunitions could have been planted by the police themselves. The GJM demands a high level judicial inquiry or a probe by the NIA in this matter."

Though there was palpable tension and uncertainty that gripped the town with news of the shoot out, the residents clung onto to the gradually returning normality after 104 days of bandh. Shops remained open along with educational institutes and offices. Vehicles also plied.

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