Hundreds of rebels surrender to Indian forces in peace push

Hundreds of rebels surrender to Indian forces in peace push
Assam Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, third from right, receives arms from one of the rebels who surrendered during a ceremony in Gauhati, India, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. More than 600 insurgents belonging to eight different rebel groups have surrendered to Indian authorities in this troubled northeastern state, responding to the government’s peace initiative to rejoin mainstream society. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

GAUHATI, India (AP) — More than 600 insurgents belonging to eight different rebel groups surrendered to Indian authorities in a troubled northeastern state on Thursday, responding to a government’s peace initiative that will allow them to rejoin mainstream society, police said.

Assam state police chief Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said the rebels also laid down assault rifles, grenades, bombs and other weapons.

The rebels will now be kept in government-run camps and taught technical skills to take up jobs in the near future.

Government forces are battling dozens of ethnic insurgent groups In India’s remote northeast who are pushing demands ranging from independent homelands to maximum autonomy within India.

The surrender ceremony on Thursday was attended by Assam state’s top elected official, Sarbananda Sonowal, and some top security officials.

“A total of 644 rebels belonging to eight different insurgent groups surrendered today, lending a huge boost to the government’s peace initiatives,” Mahanta told The Associated Press.

More than 300 belong to the National Liberation Front of Bengalis, an outfit formed around 2015 to protect Bengali-speaking people from rival armed groups in the state.

The rest belong to the Adivasi Dragon Force, which represents the state’s tea garden Adivasi community, and the United Liberation Front of Asom, a faction headed by Paresh Baruah.

Another faction of ULFA, headed by Arabinda Rajkhowa, is already in peace talks with the Indian government.

Earlier this month, the National Democratic Front, a key insurgent group headed by B. Saoraigwra, signed a cease-fire agreement with Indian authorities in Assam state.

In 2012, more than 1,800 rebels belonging to nine groups laid down their weapons after another government peace overture. Officials said the level of insurgency-related violence has come down substantially in the state.