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9 Jul 2017

Darjeeling crisis: Army called as violence rises... three dead

Army redeployed after fresh violence erupted in Darjeeling hills where Gorkhaland supporters torched a police outpost, a toytrain station and clashed with the police at two places in Darjeeling. (Photo: AP)SOUMITRA NANDI, Asian Age, Jul 9, 2017, Kolkata: The Army was recalled in Darjeeling after fresh violence erupted on Saturday, leading to the death of three people allegedly in police firing. The police refuted the allegations, saying only tear gas shells and rubber bullets were fired to disperse a violent mob.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is also battling communal violence in North 24-Parganas, blamed the Centre for Saturday’s escalation. Hitting out at the Centre for its alleged “non-cooperation”, she said that Delhi had not responded to her government’s request for more Central forces to maintain peace in the Hills.

The ruling Trinamul Congress has accused the BJP of instigating violence in both Darjeeling and Basirhat. 

The BJP is an ally of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). Following the alleged police firing, protesters set fire to a number of government offices, police vehicles and a station of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, popularly known as the toy train, a world heritage site. 

“Two Army columns have been deployed — one in Darjeeling and another in Sonada, where a railway station has been set on fire,” Eastern Command spokesperson Wing Commader S.S. Birdi, said.  

The Army had been withdrawn nearly two weeks ago from the hill districts where the Gorkhaland agitation has been raging for nearly two months. Ms Banerjee hit out at the Centre on Saturday, alleging “non-cooperation” in responding to her government’s request for four companies of Central forces for maintenance of law and order in the Hills. 

“The violence in Darjeeling is a planned one. There are foreign links to this violence. We had sent requisitions for Central forces at least on four occasions in the last one month, but they didn’t act. If we had got paramilitary forces in the right time, situation would not have aggravated and today’s incident of violence would not have happened,” Ms Banerjee said. 

She alleged that the Central government is not cooperating at the behest of the BJP leaders in the state. “You have become a political government and not working for the people of the country,” she said.

While appealing to the agitators to shun violence she asserted that she is ready for talks. “Let the government send food and essential items and allow the children to return to schools. If you allow it, we can even call them for talks in 10-15 days.” she said. 

The GJM leadership blamed the state government for failing to restore peace in the Hills and asserted that they would talk with the Centre and only on the one-point agenda of a separate state for Gorkhas.

Tashi Bhutia, a Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), was found dead with a bullet wound at Sonada on Friday night. GNLF leader Niraj Zimba alleged that Bhutia was shot dead by police around midnight, while he had gone to buy medicines for his ailing elder brother. A senior police official, however, claimed he was killed in infighting.

As GJM and GNLF people marched with his body on Saturday morning, they pelted stones at Sonada police station. Police retaliated with tear gas shells and rubber bullets and tried to disperse the mob. 

The irate mob then set the police station ablaze. Protesters also set fire to the waiting room of a station of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. The office of the state forest department at Kalimpong was also set on fire, and the office of the police superintendent at Chowkbazar was ransacked as sporadic violence spread to Kurseong, Kalimpong and Mirik. 

Later in the afternoon the GJM alleged that one Suraj Sundas was killed at Chowkbazar area and one Samir Subba at Singmari area in police firing. The police has refuted the allegations. 

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