The long-time fugitive leader of an armed separatist movement in India's state of Assam has been traced to China, an Indian media reported yesterday.
Paresh Barua - commander-in-chief of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), a group fighting for the independence of the northeast state of 30 million people for more than three decades - is thought to be hiding in a border town in Yunnan province, two leading newspapers reported, citing intelligence sources.
Barua, 56, has been traced to Ruili , China's largest border hub with Myanmar, thanks to a phone call intercepted by Indian intelligence, The Times of India said. He made the call to a deputy living across the border in Myanmar over fears of a security leak by a defector in the group.
ULFA members had long found shelter with Myanmese militant groups and sourced weapons from China, India's most widely read English-language paper said.
"Barua has been living in the Chinese town, possibly with a woman friend, for the past two years," it said, citing intelligence sources. "His wife and two sons live in Bangladesh."
Citing India's former home secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai, the Hindustan Times said Barua - who is wanted in Bangladesh and India - had moved from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka to Ruili as early as 2010.
Barua is among the last leading ULFA members on the run. Last Thursday, a special court in Bangladesh's second-largest city Chittagong sentenced him in absentia to death by hanging for an attempt to smuggle 10 truckloads of arms and munition into India in 2004.
Barua first slipped out of Bangladesh in 2006, when peace talks with India collapsed.
Since then, reports of hideouts in China and accusations of acquiescence by Chinese authorities continue to emerge. In 2009, ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah were captured at the Indian-Bangladeshi border. They admitted procuring weapons from Chinese dealers, reports said at the time.
The new reports come only a week ahead of a new round of negotiations between the world's two most populous nations over their disputed border in the Himalayas. Diplomats are expected to once again skirt around the status of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, largely claimed by China as a part of Tibet.
ULFA's increased presence in the disputed territory has caused concerns in India. "It also raises questions if Chinese agencies have any role in this new pursuit of the insurgent groups," The Times of India report said.