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Sunday, 5 August, 2001, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Tripura tea estates under threat
Tripura tea estate
The tea estates are a source of hostages for the rebels
Growing violence by separatist rebels in Tripura in north-east India is taking its toll on the state's tea industry.

Plantation owners are now shutting up and moving out to avoid becoming easy targets for the rebels who belong to the state's indigenous tribes and are fighting for a separate homeland.


Fear haunts planters across Tripura with armed militants openly roaming about

PK Sarkar, Tea Association of India
The tea estates present rebels with an easy way of funding their campaign, through kidnapping and extortion.

In the latest wave of violence, three senior leaders of the governing Communist Party were shot dead by suspected rebels of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) on Saturday.

Besides the NLFT, the other major rebel group is the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF).

Shut down

Last year, both groups are reported to have kidnapped about 600 people - including tea planters - and killed 40 of them.

"Fear haunts planters across Tripura with armed militants openly roaming about in the gardens, serving extortion notices," PK Sarkar, secretary general of the Tripura unit of the Tea Association of India, told the AFP news agency.

ATTF rebels
The rebels have a free run of the countryside
He said six tea estates had already shut down because of the growing pressure from the rebels.

"Many more estates are on the verge of closure with the threat perception increasing day by day," Mr Sarkar said.

Many of the plantation owners are Bengali settlers and are easy prey for the rebels who say they are fighting against the marginalisation of Tripura's indigenous population.

Vulnerable

Angry plantation owners say they are provided with no security from the police.

"There is no security whatsoever and despite repeated requests, the local government has failed to provide protection," Mr Sarkar said.

But police said they had not received any formal complaints although they had heard about extortion notices being served on planters.

"Maybe the tea industry officials make their own arrangements to buy peace," Tripura police chief BL Vohra said.

He added that many of the plantations were situated along the 850km-long border with Bangladesh which added to the problem.

"Gardens situated on the border are more vulnerable to militant attacks as the border is not fenced and there is [a] paucity of personnel to provide security to each plantation," the police chief said.

See also:

26 Apr 01 | South Asia
Police ambushed in Tripura
03 Mar 01 | South Asia
Rebels hit Tripura convoy
24 Mar 00 | South Asia
Tripura rebels kill five
21 May 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Tripura's tribal strife
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