Rebel Indian leader captured

NEW DELHI: A rebel leader from India’s northeast whose group is blamed for more than 500 bomb blasts in the last three decades has been arrested in Bangladesh and transferred to India, an official said today.

Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman, United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), was arrested this week in Dhaka, where he was believed to be in hiding, along with the group’s deputy military chief, a bodyguard and seven family members.

“Bangladesh has handed over the top leaders of ULFA and their family members to India to investigate all the criminal cases against them,” said Vijay Singh, a spokesman from India’s Border Security Force in New Delhi.

ULFA, one of the most powerful rebel armies in the northeast among 30-odd militant groups active in the region, has been fighting for an independent homeland for ethnic Assamese since 1979.

Rajkhowa, 53, has been the subject of an arrest warrant from international police body Interpol since 1997 for a range of crimes, including murder, extortion, and kidnapping. Rajkhowa, along with four others who have already been arrested, founded ULFA in 1979 and have been responsible for an estimated 500 bomb blasts and have extorted billions of rupees from businessmen and traders, police say. They have been operating outside India since the Indian government launched a military offensive codenamed “Operation Bajrang” in November 1990.

“They have been shifting their base around from India, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh,” a senior police officer told AFP.

At least 10,000 people, most civilians, have died in Assam state because of fighting between government forces and the various rebel groups.

India has been wracked by separatist conflicts since its independence in 1945, with deadly insurgencies embedded in its northwestern Kashmir region and the northeast.

A steadily rising Maoist insurgency that began as a peasants’ uprising in 1967 has now spread to 20 of 29 states. India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi suggested this week that the government might hold peace talks with ULFA.