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Two days after the death of two suspected militants in “crossfire” during a police operation in Bodo Territorial Region’s (BTR) Kokrajhar district, Pramod Boro, the Chief Executive Member the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC), said that there will be a “proper investigation” into the incident.

Boro’s statement comes after an uproar in Kokrajhar, with locals and Opposition parties alleging that the encounter was “staged.”

“This is a very unfortunate incident. I have spoken to the Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma about it, and he, too, is seriously concerned. I have discussed it with the authorities and there will be a proper investigation,” said Boro, whose party, UPPL, is an ally of the BJP.

On Friday, the Assam Police said that two militants — Janak Brahma and Jawngsar Mushahary— of the newly floated United Liberation of Bodoland (ULB) were killed in an “exchange of fire” at the Ultapani Reserve Forest area in Kokrajhar district.

Formed last week, the ULB — which demands a separate Bodoland state —  has a strength of about 20-25 cadres, among them many National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) members. All factions of the NDFB came overground after decades of armed movement after the third Bodo Peace Accord was signed in January 2020. Brahma and Mushahary are also ex-NDFB, and joined the mainstream in January 2020.

On Sunday, hundreds came out in protest of the killing, carrying Mushahary’s body around his village Salguri, before last rites.

According to the police, the two had been involved in “rampant extortion” and were apprehended with weapons on September 17 at 5.30 am. After they informed the cops of a makeshift ULB camp at the Ultapani Reserve Forest area, an operation was planned to flush out the militants the next day.

“When the police party [along with the two suspected militants] reached near their camp, suddenly miscreants started firing upon the police party and in retaliation police party took lying position and started controlled fire towards the extremist party,” said a statement from the Kokrajhar Police.

Additional Superintendent of Police of Kokrajhar, Surjeet Singh Panesar, said that when firing started, Brahma and Mushahary fled in the direction of the militants. After 30 minutes of firing, the two were found dead, with bullet injuries. “They died in crossfire,” said Panesar.

Locals, however, alleged that the two were not part of the ULB and the entire encounter was staged. ULB, too, has put out a video statement stating the two were not the outfit’s cadres.

However, the police have refuted these claims. “They were trained cadres of the NDFB. Later they joined the new militant group. Everything is verified,” said Panesar. Added GP Singh, Assam Special DGP: “We have more than enough evidence that they were part of ULB”.

Meanwhile the influential Bodo civil society group, the All Bodo Students’ Union has demanded an “independent, high level judicial inquiry.” Both the Congress and the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) have “condemned” the incident.

“We have lost trust in Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma…This is a big injustice done to the Bodo people. The accord was supposed to be a peace accord but where is the peace in BTR?” said Garjan Mushahary of the Congress. Former Kokrajhar MP Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary called it an “extra-judicial killing” and “cold blooded murder”.

BTC chief Boro said: “While we ensure a proper investigation, I also appeal to the youths not to take up arms. We have already lost a lot in the last three-four decades. Formations of new groups like this stall our development and peace process”.