Assam Environment

End to a 3-month long hunt: Poachers gang with militant connections arrested in KNP, larger nexus at play

-Avishek Sengupta

Karbi Anglong police, on Saturday, puts the finishing touch to the hunt of a seven-member militant-turned-poachers group, allegedly responsible for the year’s lone rhino death in the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) by arresting the last three members from Dhanshiri Reserve Forest in Rangapahar, about 37 km from district headquarters Diphu, on Saturday.

Jonthang, alias Thangboi, Munin alias Oversize and Ningmailung alias Lulun, were part of the seven-member group of poachers had connections to militant organizations, the National Park’s director P Sivakumar, told NewsMove. Three other members of the group were arrested earlier on June 3 while one died in a police encounter on May 28.

A ScreenGrab from the cover of Kaziranga National Park Official Website. Image: Representational purposes.

The forest guards of KNP along with Karbi Anglong police had been following a trail provided by intelligence sources about a band of poachers, who were a bit more than their regular encounters — ones armed with Chinese-made hand grenades and sophisticated Kalashnikovs — lurking in the woods of Kaziranga and Dhanshiri Reserve Forest that are only separated by a highway, NH128.

During monsoons, animals of the park— a lowland and prone to floods — take refuge in Dhanshiri and other jungles on the hills of Karbi Anglong.

P Sivakumar, Director, Kaziranga National Park. File Photo.

“We had intelligence inputs regarding the movement of a group of 7 persons allegedly belonging to some extremist group from Karbi Anglong in the Panbari area with three AK series rifles. Combing operations were carried out based on the information since March,” Sivakumar said.

The group, allegedly made its presence felt on May 5, after an adult rhino was killed in the Agaratoli range of the park, by throwing a hand grenade and then shot at with Kalashnikov-series rifles. That marked the first death in the national park, home to over 2,400 one-horned rhinos, after a long gap of a year and a month since the last poaching incident in April last year.

It also marked the first incident of using hand grenades for poaching, that had so far been done in stealth using silencer-fitted guns and at times, snipers. Both grenades and AK-series guns are noisy and seldom used by poachers.

Armed poachers: Kalashnikov-series rifle recovered.

First, of the group, Mangboi Paite, from Manipur, was shot dead during an encounter with Karbi Anglong police in the Dhansiri Reserve Forest, around the same place where the three poachers on Saturday were apprehended.

Three other — David Siama alias Samboi of Lamka Churachandpur in Manipur, Biki Thapa of Sagmuthi tea garden and Simon Lakra of Napani, Salna in Assam’s Nagaon district – were arrested on June 3 from Dolamara in Karbi Anglong.

“One AK 81 rifle used for rhino poaching has been recovered from them. From the three arrested on June, arms and ammunition, including a Type 81 rifle, two AK-56 rifles, a double-barrel gun, and Chinese-made grenades were seized,” Debajit Deuri, Superintendent of Police, Karbi Anglong told News Move.

One horned rhino
A one-horned rhinoceros. Image: Representational purposes.

“The group of poachers’ modus operandi was to enter Kaziranga through Dhansiri Reserve Forest, conduct their operations and leave. They were successful only once (the rhino killed on May 5 with hand grenades,” KNP director Sivakumar said.

“Rhino horn could not be recovered yet though they have confessed their crime,” Karbi Anglong SP Deuri said.

The hill-district Karbi Anglong, adjoining the southern edge of the 898 square kilometers Kaziranga National Park, and Nagaland, has several extremist organizations, some active some on talks with the government but most of them, active participants in various illegal activities including arms smuggling and poaching.

Highly-placed intelligence sources revealed to News Move that at least four such organizations — Karbi Land Protection Force, Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger, United People’s Liberation Force, and United People’s Democratic Solidarity — are involved in such activities.

“A rhino horn sells for Rs 1.5 crore or higher. These militant organizations use those for the purchase of arms and ammunition. Most rhino horns, elephant tusks. Animal skins from northeast India are transported via Nagaland and Manipur through Myanmar that ultimately are sold in the black markets of China,” the source said.

Most arms used by the northeast extremist organizations are purchased from Norinco, a Chinese-government owned ordnance factory in Yunnan Province, that shares borders with Myanmar, sources said.

Last year, 50 rhino poachers were arrested in KNP while only three incidents of poaching were recorded.

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