Rebels announce cease-fire in India's northeast

AP News
Posted: Jul 12, 2011 7:52 AM
Rebels announce cease-fire in India's northeast

A leading separatist group in India's remote northeastern on Tuesday announced a unilateral cease-fire, moving closer to a peace dialogue to resolve a three-decade-old insurgency.

The United Liberation Front of Asom has been fighting since 1979 for an independent homeland for the ethnic Assamese in the state of Assam, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) east of New Delhi.

Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the group better known by its acronym ULFA, issued a statement in Assam's capital Gauhati in which he appealed to members to "scrupulously abide" by the cease-fire and take the peace process forward.

The insurgency has claimed an estimated 10,000 lives. The Indian government has offered talks previously on greater autonomy but has ruled out independence and said ULFA would have to give up violence. Officials did not immediately react to Tuesday's statement.

Rajkhowa was released from a yearlong detention in January after his group split up last year and several of his colleagues were picked up by authorities in Bangladesh and handed over to India.

He commands some 2,500 members who are staying in designated camps set up by the government.

Even before Tuesday's announcement, the militants have agreed to resolve their insurgency through political negotiations with the government. However, a rival splinter group headed by commander Paresh Baruah, who is said to be in hiding near the China-Myanmar border, has opposed the peace process.

Police blamed Baruah's group, the Adivasi Peoples' Army, of triggering a bomb that derailed a train Sunday and injured more than 50 passengers, four of them critically, in Rangiya, 31 miles (50 kilometers) west of Gauhati. The rebels denied responsibility.

The rebels say Assam's indigenous people _ most of whom are ethnically closer to groups in Myanmar and China than to the rest of India _ are ignored by the federal government in New Delhi. They also accuse the Indian government of exploiting the northeast's rich natural resources.

The government has appointed a former intelligence chief, P.C. Haldar, as an interlocutor in talks with the rebels. Haldar has already held several rounds of preliminary talks with Rajkhowa and his colleagues.

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