Indian government, rebel group sign accord

AP News
Posted: Sep 03, 2011 7:06 AM
Indian government, rebel group sign accord

A leading separatist group in India's remote northeast signed a cease-fire accord with the Indian government on Saturday aimed at resolving a three-decade-old insurgency, a government official said.

Home Ministry spokesman Onkar Kedia said the suspension of operations agreement was signed by the two sides in the Indian capital.

The agreement paves the way for formal peace talks between the Indian government and the United Liberation Front of Asom, or ULFA. The group has been fighting since 1979 for an independent homeland for the ethnic Assamese in Assam state, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) east of New Delhi.

The ULFA had announced a unilateral cease-fire in July after New Delhi released seven of its top leaders from prison, including its chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa.

Under the accord, nearly 2,500 ULFA fighters will stay in designated camps set up by the government and their weapons kept in joint custody while the two sides hold talks to reach a final agreement, an ULFA official said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

The insurgency has claimed an estimated 10,000 lives. The Indian government has offered talks previously on greater autonomy if the ULFA gave up violence, but has ruled out independence.

Rajkhowa was released after 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.

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.

More than 30 groups in the northeast have been fighting for decades for independence from India or wide autonomy in the region.

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.


Associated Press Writer Wasbir Hussain in Gauhati contributed to this story.