Feared India separatist leader invests millions in Bangladesh
The military leader of a rebel group seeking independence for India’s isolated north-eastern state of Assam earns millions of dollars each year from investments in Bangladesh, a Bangladeshi intelligence report seen by a local news agency revealed.
Paresh Barua heads a hardline faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and is now believed to operate from camps in Myanmar, which borders Assam. The news of his investments sheds light on how he keeps his unit running. The U.S. State Department in 2006 estimated ULFA had several hundred fighters.
The report published by the Press Trust of India agency said Barua earns $1.5 million every quarter as remittance from businesses including real estate, shipping, textile and power, and another $500,000 through foreign exchange.
Barua invested $14 million in three Dhaka-based real estate firms in the name of a London-based businessman, the reports said. It was not clear where the money came from.
In recent years, Bangladesh arrested and deported a number of guerrillas operating from its territory, greatly improving ties with India, which has for decades fought armed groups that want independence in the distant north-eastern states.
Funding of multiple small insurgencies in the north-east, which is geographically and culturally isolated from the rest of India, has always been a topic of hot political debate, with fingers often pointed at arch-rival Pakistan.
Thousands have died in the violence since ULFA was formed in 1979 to fight for independence, accusing India of plundering mineral and agricultural resources.
Once popular, support for the group has sagged lately.
Leaders of several ULFA factions have accepted a ceasefire but Barua refuses to back down or negotiate on anything short of sovereignty.
ULFA’s chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, earlier this year dropped demands for independence. India rejects supervised talks.
Bangladesh’s intelligence agencies are keeping a close eye on the companies Barua has invested in, and have informed the government about the developments, the reports said.
A 2007 report from security think-tank Stratfor describes Barua as “an enormously wealthy racketeer” worth $110 million with assets in the Persian Gulf whose organization generates huge revenues from extorting companies producing Assam’s famous tea.