"The state government recently assessed the law and order situation of the state and decided to extend AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958) for six more months," a senior home department official said. He said that a state-level coordination committee led by Chief Secretary SK Panda periodically assessed the overall security situation in the state with top officials of the state and central security forces.

The coordination committee is overseeing the anti-insurgency operation in Tripura, which shares an 856-km border with Bangladesh. Terrorist outfits that operate in the state are believed to be sheltering and availing arms training in the neighbouring country.

"Though the four-and-half-decade old terrorism has been tamed in Tripura, the Left Front government is averse to taking any chances for some more time," the official said. The northeastern state of Tripura has 70 police stations. The AFSPA has been in force in 32 police station areas, it is fully operational in 25 police station areas, and partially operational in seven.

In view of the improvement of the situation and the lessening of terrorist activities, the Tripura government in June reduced operational areas of the AFSPA to 32 police station areas instead of the 40 earlier. The act was earlier fully operational in 34 police station areas, and partially in six. The act was first enforced in Tripura in 1997, when violence was at its peak in the mountainous state.

The central act provides unlimited powers to security forces to shoot at sight, arrest anybody without a warrant, and carry out searches without obstacles and without any one's consent. It also insulates the security forces from legal processes for any action undertaken under the act. Local rights groups and political parties, specially the tribal-based Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), describe the act as "draconian" and want it repealed.

"Innocent people are victimised by the security forces in the name of anti-insurgency operations," said Nagendra Jamatia, former minister and a senior leader of the INPT, an electoral ally of the opposition Congress."Demand for repealing the AFSPA was one of the issues in our movement against the Left Front government," Jamatia said.

According to the leaders of INPT and other tribal-based parties, several hundred tribal youth have been either detained or arrested under the AFSPA over the years. Besides Tripura, the AFSPA is also in force in Manipur (excluding the Imphal Municipal Council area), Assam and Nagaland, and in the Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh.Human rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila of Manipur has been on an indefinite hunger strike for 13 years, demanding the withdrawal of the act.

Tripura's two militant outfits - National Liberation Front of Tripura and the All Tripura Tiger Force - both banned, have set up their bases in Bangladesh and get support from other separatist outfits of the northeast. They have been demanding secession of Tripura from India.


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