The separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) seems to have shifted two kidnapped employees of hydrocarbon company Quippo Oil & Gas Infrastructure Ltd across the border into Myanmar.
Reliable sources close to ULFA said this was done after a deadline for ransom set by the ULFA expired on Friday. The rebel group suspected that Indian security forces may resort to a snatch raid on a rebel hideout on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border where the two Quippo employees had been kept.
Even as Indian security forces were continuing operations in the border jungles of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to rescue two Quippo employees, the Assam government has appealed to ULFA to release them at once.
"We earnestly request Paresh Barua to release the duo. We don't want Assam and India to be painted red with blood. If something unfortunate happens to the two persons, then Assam's head will hang in shame. Our community will be compared to Taliban," said senior Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Sarma said it would be "very unfortunate" if something were to happen to these two Quippo employees, P.K. Gogoi and Ram Kumar.
The United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) on Friday warned of "extreme steps" against the two Quippo employees since the expected ransom asked for has not yet been paid. A ULFA-I statement, signed by its 'publicity cell' member Rumel Asom, said that "extreme steps" were being considered next week against the two since the deadline had expired on Friday.
Rumel Asom also said in the statement that Quippo would be henceforth "prohibited" from carrying out work in the entire South East Asia region, meaning Northeast which ULFA considers not as part of India but as "Western South-east Asia".
Gogoi, a drilling superintendent, and Kumar, a radio operator, were kidnapped by ULFA militants from a drilling site near Innao in Arunachal Pradesh's Changlang district on December 21.
Intelligence officials said ULFA initially demanded Rs 20 crore for releasing them but then scaled down the demand to half that amount. There were indications it might be prepared to settle for still less. But it seems the militant leaders were upset by Quippo's refusal to concede to payment of ransom.
Changlang SP Mihin Gambo has said "rescue operations were ongoing" but reliable sources close to the ULFA indicated that the two Quippo employees had been possibly shifted across the border into Myanmar.
Quippo is into onshore drilling services and has been drilling one of the prospective sites in Changlang.
Gogoi is from Assam's Sibsagar district while Ram Kumar is from Bihar's Khagaria district.
ULFA has often created such a crisis by kidnapping top executives of tea and hydrocarbon companies. In 1989, RAW had to fly out using a secret airbase several executives of multinational Unlever after ULFA threatened to kidnap them on failure of payment of ransom.