Bodo rebels drop sovereignty demand, Assam peace hopes rise

October 1st, 2008 - 7:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Guwahati, Oct 1 (IANS) With a frontline tribal separatist group in Assam giving up its demand for sovereignty or independence and New Delhi extending for three months the existing ceasefire, there were renewed hopes Wednesday for permanent peace in the troubled region. Leaders of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) submitted in writing their decision to hold peace talks within the ambit of the Indian constitution by giving up on its demand for sovereignty during a meeting in New Delhi with union home ministry officials Tuesday.

“The ceasefire for another three months with the NDFB came into effect Wednesday and we are hopeful of clinching an accord with the outfit for a permanent solution to the long drawn insurgency in the region,” a home ministry official said by telephone requesting not to be named.

The NDFB, an influential rebel group fighting for an independent homeland for the Bodo tribe, had entered into a ceasefire with New Delhi in May 2005. The NDFB was formed in 1986 with the outfit resorting to decades of violent strikes across the state, especially in the tribal Bodo heartland in western Assam.

The ceasefire with the NDFB ran into trouble with the outfit in April submitting its charter of demands that included sovereignty or independence as the main clause.

“We asked them to revise the charter of demands and drop the sovereignty clause. And on Tuesday we met their top leaders in New Delhi where they submitted their revised demand list dropping the independence demand,” the official said.

After the ceasefire, more than a thousand NDFB militants were sheltered in three government-run designated camps in parts of western Assam. The decision by the NDFB to drop their sovereignty demand has been generally hailed in the Bodo heartland of western and northern Assam with people welcoming the move and hoping the region would witness permanent peace.

“The demand for independence was unrealistic and now that the NDFB has formally given up the sovereignty issue, we hope to see permanent peace dawning in the region,” Hagrama Mohilary, chief of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), said.

The BTC is a politico-administrative structure formed in the Bodo tribal dominated areas in western and northern Assam after the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), an influential rebel group, surrendered en masse in 2003 following an accord reached between the militant leadership and the central government. The BLT was fighting for an independent Bodoland within the Indian union, unlike the NDFB that was seeking to carve out a separate homeland outside of India.

“If the NDFB now want to fight for a Bodoland state within the Indian union, then we are ready to join hands with them,” Mohilary, the former chief of the now disbanded BLT, said.

The NDFB and the BLT are currently engaged in a bitter fratricidal war in the Bodo heartland for territorial supremacy.

Despite the BLT now disbanded and the NDFB in a ceasefire mode, armed cadres of the two groups had in the past two years killed about 30 people of rival groups in separate attacks.

“We hope the government was able to clinch an accord with the NDFB now. We want both the NDFB and the former BLT to stop fighting each other and help restore permanent peace in the area,” a Bodo community leader said.

At least a dozen odd separatist groups in the northeast are operating independent ceasefires with New Delhi, six of them from Assam alone. There are some 30 militant groups active in the northeast with demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination.

All seven states have at one time or another since 1947 faced ethnic strife or insurgency, with various ethnic groups accusing New Delhi of exploiting the oil, timber and tea-rich region and ignoring its development.

Myriad insurgencies in the northeast since India’s independence in 1947 have claimed an estimated 50,000 lives in the region with thousands more maimed for life.

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