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Army may be withdrawn from N-E counter-insurgency operations

Josy Joseph in New Delhi | October 30, 2003 14:58 IST
Last Updated: October 30, 2003 22:54 IST

In a significant shift in India's security deployment, the Centre has proposed to withdraw army from all counter-insurgency operations in the northeast, except Assam.

The army insists it has not heard anything on such a proposal, but there are reports that the move, now being given final shape by the Ministry of Home Affairs, is facing resistance from local army commanders.

If the proposal is accepted, the Dhimpur-based 3 Corps will be fully replaced by Assam Rifles with army officers deputed to critical positions in its ranks.

The withdrawal of army from northeast is being seen as a move in harmony with Delhi's attempts to find lasting peace in the region. A senior official said the withdrawal will send out 'the right signals' to the rebels, including the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M), which has been engaged in talks by the Centre.

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The prime minister's recent visit to Nagaland and the massive economic package he announced was a part of his government's effort to take the region ahead on the path to normalcy.

Moves are already afoot to substantially increase the strength of Assam Rifles. The Union government has cleared a proposal to add 15 more battalions to its existing 33. Each battalion of Assam Rifles has about 1,200 soldiers, much more than the army's traditional strength of about 800 per battalion. Thus in effect, the Assam Rifles would have about 20,000 soldiers more on its rolls in the first stage of its expansion.

Sources in the home ministry, which is the supervising ministry for Assam Rifles, say the aim is to fully replace the 57 Infantry Division, the only existing full division under 3 Corps, and other units by Assam Rifles. "Senior army officers would soon be in place in Assam Rifles for beefing up its ranks," a source said.

The withdrawal of army from a large part of the northeast will be a major step forward in India's attempt to reduce the army's role in counter-insurgency operations. A substantial portion of the Indian Army is currently engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir and the northeast.


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