The operation progressed successfully and resulted in the capture of 73 foreign nationals.
A joint tri-service operation was launched on 9th February 1998 to apprehend the smugglers along with their arms, ammunition and equipment. Coast Guard and Police also participated in the operation.
The operation progressed successfully and resulted in the capture of 73 foreign nationals. Six foreign nationals tried to escape into the adjoining area while opening fire on our troops. Our troops immediately responded in self-defence and fatally injured six of them whilst in the water. They were seen disappearing in the sea and are presumed dead. After a search, none of the six bodies could be recovered.
The 73 arrested men were handed over to the civil authorities. The arms, ammunition and equipment were retained for further investigation”.
The 1998 Annual Report of the Ministry of Defence stated:-
A combined service operation (Operation Leech) was undertaken in February 1998 to intercept arms deliveries meant for Indian insurgent groups in the northeast.
“Naval forces successfully undertook major operations in the Andaman Sea against gunrunners and narcotic dealers and apprehended a number of militants along with large caches of arms and ammunition. Some of the major operations were: –
- Operation Leech between 9th and 11th February 1998. The forces involved were Vindhyagiri (Naval frigate), Saryu (Naval offshore patrol vessel), two naval Landing Craft Utility, Coast Guard Ships Vivek and Lakshmibai, Naval Islander aircraft, Coast Guard Dornier aircraft, Army elements from 3 Madras and Air Force MI 8 helicopters.
- Operation Poorab between 29th May and 2nd June 1998.13 The forces involved were Saryu (Naval offshore patrol vessel), Kirpan and Kuthar, Coast Guard Ships, LCU 34, 35 (two naval Landing Craft Utility), Naval Islander aircraft and Coast Guard Dornier aircraft.
- Operation Hibiscus between 9th and 17th August 1998. The forces involved were Khanjar (Naval corvette), Himgiri (Naval frigate) Saryu (Naval offshore patrol vessel) and Kuthar.
Prima facie, Operation Leech was just one of many operations. However, it attracted widespread media attention.
The following information was given by the Defence Minister Shri George Fernandes in a written reply to Shri Ramjivan Singh and others in the Lok Sabha on November 28, 2002:
For the foreseeable future, the security of Indias north-eastern states requires that insurgents, militants and secessionists be denied use of Myanmars thickly forested, hilly, porous frontiers for smuggling arms and ammunition into India.
“A combined service operation (Operation Leech) was undertaken in February 1998 to intercept arms deliveries meant for Indian insurgent groups in the northeast. In this operation, 73 foreign nationals were apprehended and 138 weapons along with a large quantity of ammunitions were recovered.
On the basis of certain information and in view of the possible international ramifications of this operation, it was considered desirable that investigations into this episode be carried out by a Central Investigating Agency. Accordingly, CBI was directed to take over the investigation. The investigation is still on.
However, as no evidence could come forth during the investigation against 37 fishermen, a report under Section 169 Criminal Procedure Code was filed by the CBI and the fishermen were discharged by the Chief Judicial Magistrate on May 07, 1999. The remaining 36 militants who were lodged in jail in Port Blair were released from judicial custody on October 14, 1999. They are at present lodged in a building in Port Blair as they do not have any travel documents.
The investigation by the CBI is continuing.”
Eventually, Human Rights advocates petitioned the judiciary for the release of the insurgents. In 2004, the Supreme Court issued notices to the CBI and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Administration to file their replies.
For the foreseeable future, the security of India’s north-eastern states requires that insurgents, militants and secessionists be denied use of Myanmar’s thickly forested, hilly, porous frontiers for smuggling arms and ammunition into India.
The main entry point for smuggled arms and narcotics was, and still is, Cox’s Bazar on the Bangladesh coast, where anti-Indian organisations have set up an inter-linked network for supply of weapons to insurgents and terrorists.