GUWAHATI (AFP): One of the main guerrilla groups fighting Indian rule in the remote northeast is shifting its camps to Nepal following crackdowns in other neighbouring countries, an ex-rebel said Wednesday.
The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), blamed for ethnic massacres and a bombing campaign in oil and timber-rich Assam state, has also gained support from Nepal's Maoists, the defector said in claims that were quickly denied in Nepal.
"We were in touch with Maoist groups in Nepal and procuring arms, ammunition and explosives for ULFA," said Ghanakanta Bora, a senior ULFA rebel who along with his wife surrendered to Indian troops in Assam on Tuesday.
"With both the military junta in Myanmar and the caretaker government in Bangladesh deciding to crackdown on groups like ULFA, the top leadership decided to look for safer sanctuaries," he told reporters.
"Nepal was considered the safest location," Bora said at a ceremony marking his surrender also attended by senior army officials.
The ULFA, which wants an independent homeland in Assam, had previously also been based in camps in neighbouring Bhutan, but the Himalayan kingdom also cracked down on their presence there in 2003.
Earlier this year Myanmar also promised to step up military action against Indian rebel groups including the ULFA, regarded as the most powerful among the 30-odd
separatist groups in India's northeast.
But the latest claims are likely to increase concern over the conduct of Nepal's Maoists, who late last year agreed to end a decade-old insurgency against Kathmandu and enter the political mainstream.
Although the Maoist peace has been widely hailed, including in New Delhi, the United States continues to class them as a foreign terrorist organisation.
"ULFA have set up some bases in Nepal with the active support of Maoist guerrillas," a senior Indian army official told AFP on condition that he not be named.
He said the group "is currently preparing to shift a large number of cadres and leaders" to Nepal, which shares a 1,800-kilometre (1,125-mile) unfenced border with India.
In Kathmandu, however, a top Maoist leader dismissed the allegations.
"This is totally baseless, we don't know anybody from ULFA and we have never had any relationship with them at any point in the past," Baburam Bhatterai, the second-in-command of Nepal's Maoists, told AFP in Kathmandu.
"These allegations could have been made to try and derail Nepal's peace process and drag us into disputes," he said.
ULFA has been blamed for a string of bomb attacks in Assam in recent months, and was also accused killing 80 people, mainly Hindi-speaking migrant workers, in January.
Separatist violence has claimed an estimated 20,000 lives since 1979 in Assam, the largest state in India's northeast.