Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma visited the family of the abducted ONGC engineer Ritul Saikia to reassure them that the government was taking all steps to secure his release

Hours before the statement from ULFA-I chief Paresh Baruah, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters that Ritul Saikia was being held in a location in Myanmar by the banned group

GUWAHATI: The banned United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) confirmed on Tuesday that Ritul Saikia, an employee of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) abducted last month was in their custody. Ritul Saikia, a junior engineer assistant, was one of three ONGC employees to have been abducted from an ONGC rig site in Assam’s Sivasagar district on April 21.

The other two, Mohini Mohan Gogoi (junior engineer assistant) and Alakesh Saikia (junior technician), were rescued by security forces three days after an operation in Nagaland, close to the Indo-Myanmar border. There had, however, been no clarity on Ritul Saikia and the insurgent group had claimed after the gunfight with security forces that it had released all three.

On Tuesday, ULFA-I commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah came around to acknowledge that this wasn’t the case. He said Saikia is being held by the organization and he is being taken care of.

“We will have to talk with ONGC and will surely release him after that. I would like to assure Saikia’s family and well-wishers that no harm will come to him,” Baruah told DY365, an Assamese TV channel.

Baruah’s confirmation that Ritul Saikia was in ULFA-I’s custody came hours after Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma visited the ONGC employee’s home at Titabar in Jorhat district and assured them that all efforts were underway to secure his release.

“As per our information, Saikia is in ULFA-I custody in Myanmar, close to the Indo-Myanmar border. We are taking all possible steps to bring him back without any harm,” Sarma told journalists after meeting Saikia’s family.

Last week, ULFA-I issued a seven-point list of demands to ONGC, Oil India Limited (OIL) and Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) which included the demand for 95% reservation in jobs for indigenous residents of Assam in the three public sector oil companies.

On Saturday, the banned outfit announced a three-month unilateral ceasefire and suspension of all operations citing the Covid19 pandemic.

“The ceasefire announcement is a welcome step, but that doesn’t mean government action against the outfit will stop. The ceasefire is a move from their side without framing any ground rules. For a formal ceasefire, the outfit should shun violence and join peace talks,” Sarma said on Tuesday.