ULFA(I)'s repeated attacks on oil sector will break economic backbone: Assam CM

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Guwahati, May 20 (PTI) Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Thursday appealed to ULFA(I) head Paresh Barua to release kidnapped ONGC employee Ritul Saikia and said 'repeated attacks' on oil sector will break the economic backbone of the state.

Addressing a press conference here, Sarma said the Assam government will pressurise the oil companies more to invest further for the progress of the state, but that can be done only with a conducive atmosphere.

'I request Paresh Barua to release Ritul Saikia. Earlier, we did not request him because ULFA(I) did not accept Saikia's presence with them. But, yesterday, Barua said Ritul is with him. So, today I earnestly request for his release,' he added.

Two employees, Mohini Mohan Gogoi and Alakesh Saikia, of the PSU major ONGC were rescued on April 24 after an encounter near India-Myanmar border in Mon district of Nagaland after three days of kidnap, while the search for the third one-- Ritul Saikia -- is on.

Earlier, during the first week of April, two employees of the Quippo Oil and Gas Infrastructure were released by ULFA(I) after three-and-half months of their kidnap on December 21 last year.

Mentioning the two incidents, Sarma said: 'If repeated attacks on the oil sector continues, then our economic backbone will be broken. If there is any demand, Ritul Saikia's kidnapping cannot fulfil that.' He stressed that the state government can further pressurise the oil companies to invest more in the state through the Centre, but this can be done only with safe release of Saikia.

Sarma said that the state earned Rs 16,007 crore in 2019 -20 from the oil sector as royalty, VAT and GST share from the Centre.

'Lakwa Thermal Power Station, all tea gardens, Assam Gas Cracker Project and many such installations will come to a halt if the oil companies do not provide their products. So, it is not only about monetary contributions,' he added.

Talking about the three-month unilateral ceasefire by the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent), the chief minister said it is a 'good sign', but the state cannot respond to it is just an intention from the banned outfit without any ground work done.

'I am waiting for further statements regarding his (Barua's) intention for holding talks. Only then, we will work accordingly. I hope this will be further fortified by an elaborate statement on preparations for ground work for a permanent peace,' he added.

The chief minister said that ULFA(I) declared the unilateral ceasefire only due to COVID-19 and to give a chance to the new government, and no question of permanent talks have come at this moment.

Sarma appealed to the chief of the banned organisation to come to the negotiation, which if it takes place will be between the Centre, state and ULFA(I).

On May 15, ULFA (Independent) in a statement announced a unilateral ceasefire for three months due to the prevailing COVID-19 situation in the state with the underground outfit refraining from any operations during the period.

Three days later, Sarma had said the unilateral ceasefire decision by the ULFA(I) will not result in immediate halt of operations by security forces, but viewed the move as a 'ray of hope'. PTI TR SNS SNS

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