By Jagdamba Mall, Organiser

Policeman displays bullets recovered from Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants (file photo)

Assam: About 700 militants from nine separatist groups in Assam laid down their arms to join the mainstream in the presence of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and Chief Minister of Assam Tarun Gogoi. It is one of the north-east’s biggest  surrender ceremonies in Assam’s capital city Guwahati. A total of 676 armed militants laid down lethal weapons and in return received roses from the Home Minister.

P Chidambaram said, “Leave the past behind and look at the future positively. We assure that each one of you would be treated equally and be able to lead a life of dignity and honour.”

The nine groups are part of two major ethnic groups – the Janjati Kukis in eastern Assam and Adivasis (Urao, Santhal, Majhi, Munda, etc.) inhabiting the northern and western parts of Assam. Among the major groups that surrendered were the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), the Hamar People’s Convention (HPC), the Birsa Commando Force (BCF) and the Adivasi Cobra Militants of Assam (ACMA).

All the nine militant groups are already observing ceasefire with the government although formal peace talks are yet to begin. Most of these groups are either fighting for secession or some for greater autonomy. All these secessionist groups are allegedly supported and funded by church and church-sponsored organisations. The leaders and the cadres of these militant organisations are Christians.

“We have realised the futility of an armed struggle and decided to join the mainstream with the sincere hope that our grievances would be resolved through negotiations with the government,” Parvez Khaka, Chairman of the ACMA told the media soon after laying down arms.

Most of the militants recounted the hard life in the jungles and their acts of violence. “Life was hard in the jungles and at times we regret when our attacks led to the loss of lives of innocent civilians,” a battle hardened Kuki rebel said requesting anonymity. Lt Gen Shakti Gurung was also present at the surrender ceremony.

“This could be the beginning of a new dawn of peace and hope in Assam. Surely today is a historic day for Assam and we hope a few more factions opposed to the peace process will also realise the futility of an armed struggle and join the mainstream,” the Chief Minister told the Press.

Barring the anti-talk faction of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) led by the elusive Commander-in-Chief Paresh Barua, almost all the influential rebel groups in Assam are now either holding talks with the government. Paresh Barua has converted to Islam and uses three-four Muslim names to run his multi-million business – racket in Bangladesh, Myanmar and China. He reportedly takes beef to prove that he has become a Muslim and has commitment to spread of Islam in Assam and other N-E states of Bharat.

Director General of Police (DGP) Assam Shri Khagen Sharma said that now almost all the militant groups operating in Assam have joined the mainstream and just a few factions were active. According to plans, the government would lodge these militants in designated camps until peace accords are signed with the government following formal talks.

There have been surrender ceremonies in the past also and the surrendered cadres of militant organisations have complained that the Chief Minister Gogoi did not give the relief money and rehabilitation and they were regretting government’s apathy. This should not happen this time because this will discourage further surrender by left out militants still elusive in the jungles of Assam and Myanmar.