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Malaria Epidemic Forces Assam Rebels Out Of The Jungle

Dozens of separatist guerrillas in Assam were forced out of the jungles not by the armed forces, but by the mosquitoes, seeking treatment for malaria.//

A police spokesperson said a malaria epidemic sweeping Assam and its adjoining areas have forced rebels of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) to come out of their hideouts.

"We are keeping a close watch on hospitals where we suspect ULFA cadres hit by malaria have been admitted for treatment," said a senior police official.

At least 90 people have died of a malaria epidemic in Assam since the disease struck the state last month.

The ULFA, fighting for an independent Assamese homeland since 1979, have bases in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar, besides in heavily forested areas in eastern Assam.

"This is not a new phenomenon. Each year we find ULFA cadres forced to come out of the jungles during the malaria season for treatment," Assam Inspector General of Police Khagen Sharma told IANS.

"During the days when the ULFA had its bases in Bhutan we found cadres coming out of their hideouts after being hit by malaria."

A retired chief engineer of the state's Public Works Department (PWD) who was kidnapped by the ULFA died of malaria last week.

"The abducted chief engineer was brought by the ULFA from a hideout and admitted to a private nursing home. He later died as his condition worsened while in ULFA custody," another police official said.

Militants apart, a large number of army and paramilitary soldiers, including policemen, posted in the jungle terrain were down with malaria.

"Malaria claims at least eight to 10 security personnel posted in Assam and other northeastern states every year," an official of the Central Reserve Police Force said.

The northeast is a known "malaria zone" with the disease claiming an estimated 500 lives annually. At least 230 people died in Assam last year of malaria, which is caused by a small parasite spread through mosquito bites.

The dangerous malaria season lasts three to four months beginning in mid-March. Cerebral malaria is the severest form of the disease and can cause seizures, comas and other problems.

Health officials in the adjoining states of Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland said there were cases of malaria in their region, although the disease has not assumed epidemic proportions like in Assam.

--Edited IANS

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