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India signs truce pact with tribal rebels

By HARBAKSH SINGH NANDA

NEW DELHI, May 25 (UPI) -- India's federal government has announced the end of military operations against a tribal separatist group in the northeastern part of the country to end decades of bloodshed and violence.

A government spokesman said that the yearlong cease-fire with the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland was signed in New Delhi Tuesday night in the presence of senior government official and Bodo leaders. The peace accord, which comes into force effective June 1, will be extended if it becomes successful in containing violence.

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"The truce could ultimately pave the way for holding peace talks and eventually an end to nearly two decades of violent insurgency in the region," an official of the federal home ministry said.

The NDFB is a rebel group fighting for an independent homeland for the Bodo tribe since 1986. More than 10,000 people have died in the uprising, mostly in hit-and-run attacks.

At least five rebel leaders had final round of talks with Indian officials before the accord was signed. The rebels had offered in October last year a unilateral cease-fire.

The Bodos, a Christian-dominated primitive tribe, account for about 10 percent of northeastern Assam state's 26 million people and are settled mostly in the western and northern part of the state. The animist Bodos have been demanding a separate state within India to preserve their culture from the Hindu-dominated state government and from the millions of illegal Bangladeshi migrants flooding into the area.

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In February 1993, India's federal government had signed an accord with Bodo guerrilla leaders agreeing to the formation of Autonomous Bodoland Area, which was supposed to end the insurgency. But Bodos were unhappy with the exclusion of certain villages from the autonomous area and returned to violence.

"The formal cease-fire with the NDFB will help usher in a new era of hope and peace in the region," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.

According to the truce agreement, the NDFB will maintain peace during the next year, will not carry out any hostile or violent activity against the security forces or the civilians. The security forces will, in turn, not carry out any operations against the NDFB. NDFB cadres will not carry arms or move in uniforms in this period, and will not give assistance to any other militant group and live in special camps run by the police.

A Joint Monitoring Group of equal numbers of representatives from the federal government and rebels will be setup to oversee the implementation of the agreement.

As per the agreement, the NDFB will stay in designated camps and the list of cadres and weapons in designated camps will be given to the Assam police.

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The ruling Congress and the opposition parties in Assam welcomed the ceasefire accord.

Assam Congress President Bhubaneswar Kalita told the Press Trust of India, "We welcome this effort (accord) which will be the beginning of an era of peace and prosperity in the state."

Opposition Assom Gana Parishad President Brindaban Goswami said that peace would return and the accord will help the Bodo people to fulfill their hopes and aspirations. 'We hope the NDFB will now give up their militant path and help to bring peace and development to the state and Bodoland in particular," he said.

The NDFB was formed in 1986 and its armed wing is known as the Bodoland Army. The organization has been demanding a separate state for the Bodos. News reports suggest that the NDFB has been weakened by defections and casualties and is isolated in parts of Assam it once dominated.

The NDFB is headed by Ranjan Daimary alias DR Nabla. However, in recent times, most of the outfit's top leadership have either been arrested or have surrendered.

The "vice president" Dhiren Boro was arrested in Gangtok, Sikkim's capital, on Jan. 1, 2003. Its general secretary, B Swmkhwr, alias Govinda Basumatary, was arrested Nov. 25, 2002. On June 5, 2004, Bhutan handed over the head of the NDFB's "central headquarters," Lt. B Udang, alias Udang K R Brahma, to Indian authorities.

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Another Bodo leader Nileswar Basumatary surrendered to the Assam Police authorities in Guwahati on March 17, 2004.

NDFB's deputy commander in chief, Bijoy Boro, was arrested in Bangkok during July 2004 and was subsequently deported to India. At present he is under the custody of the Assam Police.

The Chin National Liberation Army a militant outfit of Myanmar, has also supplied arms and ammunition to the NDFB in the past.

Meanwhile, government officials are also considering signing a truce with another rebel group in the region known as the United Liberation Front of Assam, or ULFA. "We are quite confident that we will be able to establish direct contact with ULFA in the near future," Gogoi said.

The rebel groups also accuse the federal government of plundering the region's rich natural resources, while doing little or nothing for the local population.

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