Outfit denies role in the incident in which three children were killed

Thousands took out a rally in Tinsukia district on Thursday shouting slogans against the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and Paresh Barua, chief of the anti-talks faction of the militant outfit, to protest the killing of three children in a grenade blast at Kharjan in Digboi on Wednesday. The blast also left a woman and a child injured.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told journalists that the government suspected the ULFA’s hand in the blast. The Paresh Barua-led faction, however, in a statement issued to a section of the media, denied its involvement.

The protesters, who took to the streets under the banner of the Assam Tea Tribe Students’ Association, raised slogans such as “Paresh Barua murdabad,” “ULFA murdabad” and carried placards with similar messages. They flayed the State government and the administration for their failure to protect innocent civilians.

Home Secretary G.D. Tripathi told The Hindu that the police suspected that the grenade was thrown by cadres of the Paresh Barua-led ULFA faction during an encounter with a joint team of police and the Army in the area five days ago but it did not go off.

“The father of one of the victims, who is speech impaired, brought the grenade home after he found it while grazing cows. His daughter, while playing with it, might have pulled the safety pin resulting in the blast and the tragic death of the three children and injuries to a woman and a child,” said Mr. Tripathi. The condition of the injured woman and the girl is stated to be stable.

Top officials are perplexed by the failure of the security personnel to recover the unexploded grenade even after five days of the encounter despite carrying out a search operation.

Mr. Tripathi said he had directed Tinsukia Deputy Commissioner S.S. Meenakshisundaram to hand over an ex gratia of Rs. 3 lakh by the State government and an additional ex gratia of Rs. 3 lakh by the Centre and Rs. 50,000 from the Chief Minister’s Jibojyoti scheme to the next of kin of each of the deceased.

The protesters, however, demanded that the next of kin of each victim be paid an ex gratia of Rs. 10 lakh and each of the two injured be paid Rs. 1 lakh.

The Chief Minister said the ULFA and other forces like Maoists and various insurgent groups were active in the State and the northeast region and might indulge in subversive activities to prove their presence.

Police and security forces were on alert to thwart the game plan of insurgents.