Tuesday, Jan 24, 2012
GUWAHATI, India - Nearly 700 Indian separatist rebels laid down their arms on Tuesday at a ceremony that the government hailed as a major step towards bringing peace to the restive northeast region.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram said the move was the result of a series of peace talks and ceasefires that have dampened violence after decades of militant activity by separatist tribal groups.
"Leave the past behind and look at the future positively," Chidambaram said at the ceremony in Guwahati, the main city of Assam.
"We assure that each one of you would be treated equally and be able to lead a life of dignity and honour," he added.
Rebels wearing green jungle fatigues handed over scores of rifles, machine guns and pistols in front of press photographers.
N. K. Das, a top local official, said a total of 676 militants from nine groups fighting for secession or greater autonomy had laid down their weapons.
Javerez Khaka, chairman of the Adivasi Cobra Militant of Assam group, told AFP that the fighters wanted "to join the mainstream with the sincere hope that our grievances could be resolved through negotiations."
India has been wracked by separatist conflicts since its independence in 1947, with deadly insurgencies in its northwestern Kashmir region as well as in the northeast, which borders Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.