Assam’s Bodo heartland rocked by fresh rebel turf war

May 7th, 2008 - 5:00 pm ICT by admin  

Guwahati, May 7 (IANS) The Bodo tribal heartland, in northeastern India’s Assam state, is being rocked by a fresh rebel turf war, a week after a frontline separatist group drawn from the community submitted its charter of demands to federal authorities in New Delhi for the start of peace talks. An office of the rebel National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), on a ceasefire with the government since March 2005, was attacked and set ablaze late Monday while the general secretary of a political party that is among the rivals of the political force in power in the 40-member Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was shot dead Tuesday evening.

“Our general secretary Basanta Basumatary was killed by armed men around 6 p.m. Tuesday as he was shopping at a market in the heart of Kokrajhar town (Kokrajhar, in western Assam, is the hub of Bodo political and administrative activity),” Rabiram Narzary, president of the Bodo People’s Progressive Front (BPPF), said.

The NDFB, pushing for an independent Bodo homeland since its inception in 1986, has alleged that cadres of a new militant group, the Bodo Royal Tiger Force (BRTF), opened fire at its camp in Chirang district Monday and later set it ablaze.

“Our camp was attacked by cadres of the BRTF along with cadres of the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT),” B. Rubu, an NDFB ‘commander’, told reporters.

The fresh attacks are significant because the violence has peaked a week after the NDFB met central government leaders in New Delhi May 1 and formally submitted its charter of demands. In fact, the non-submission of its list of demands was cited by the government as the main reason for the delay in the start of peace talks although a ceasefire agreement was reached three years ago.

The BLT, the other main rebel group in the area, was disbanded in 2003 after the outfit signed a peace agreement with the centre. The group’s leaders formed a political party, now called the Bodo People’s Front (BPF). The BPF, led by former BLT chief Hagrama Mahilary, is running the 40-member Bodo Council after winning the polls.

The BLT had been the NDFB’s main rival although the bloodshed had ended after the BLT signed the deal with New Delhi and transformed itself into a political party. Now, however, as the stage seems set for the start of peace talks between the NDFB and the government, Assam’s Bodo heartland has come to witness fresh violence.

Bodo leaders like the BPPF’s Rabiram Narzary have alleged that the BRTF, the new militant group in the arena, comprises of the cadres of the earlier BLT. This, they say, has been patronized by Mahilary’s BPF that is ruling the Bodo Council. BPF leaders deny the charges.

The area is in turmoil already with the BPPF submitting a memorandum to Assam Governor Ajai Singh last month saying more than 40 people have been killed by forces backed by the erstwhile BLT since the beginning of this year.

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