MANILA/NEW DELHI: Philippine authorities have arrested suspected members of a Sikh separatist group banned in India, a government agency announced on Monday, as demands for an independent Sikh homeland are rising abroad.
Officers from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration, the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center and the Military Intelligence Group arrested three suspected members of the Khalistan Tiger Force in the central Philippine city of Iloilo on March 7, the CICC said in a statement issued Monday.
“It is out of the ordinary, their presence here,” CICC Executive Director Alexander K. Ramos told Arab News.
The three suspects are all Indian nationals in their 20s, who were named in a red notice issued by the global police agency Interpol, Ramos said. They are currently in the custody of the Philippine military.
“It appears they are a group. In fact, there may be more that we are still trying to track down. This is the first time that the Khalistanis were detected here,” he added.
Their group KTF supports a movement banned in India known as Khalistan, which calls for an independent Sikh homeland and was known as a violent separatist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, then prompting a controversial military operation by the Indian government that killed thousands of people.
The Philippine development follows Indian police launching on March 21 a manhunt in Punjab province for Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh, who has captured national attention and revived talks of Khalistan.
The crackdown has triggered fresh demands abroad for an independent Sikh state, including protesters gathering in front of Indian missions in Canada and the UK this month, which has sparked concerns from Indian authorities.
Though recent developments are stoking fears of a return to the violence that occurred decades ago, the Khalistan movement does not have much support within India, said Delhi-based counterterrorism expert Ajai Sahni.
Sahni said Khalistan supporters are most active in Canada and the UK, but they also have a presence in the US, across Europe, and even in Malaysia and the Philippines.
“At present, the overwhelming support is from outside, from Sikh extremist diaspora communities,” Sahni told Arab News. “The movement is not securing very much traction on the ground in India.”