|Rajkhowa surrenders; securty alert as ULFA chief, Dy C-in-C in Assam’s Custody|
|GUWAHATI, DEC 4 (IANS)|
It was a dramatic end to 30 years of life underground for one of India’s most wanted fugitives, Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).
Early Friday, Rajkhowa and the deputy commander-in-chief of the outfit Raju Baruah, along with eight more militants, including their families, surrendered before Indian authorities at Dawki in the northeastern state of Meghalaya.
Among those who surrendered include Rajkhowa, his wife Kaveri and two children, Raju Baruah, his wife and a child, Rajkhowa’s personal security guard Raja Bora, and the wife of ULFA foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury and their son.
The surrendered ULFA leaders and their family members were brought to Guwahati by a helicopter and lodged at the 4th Assam Police Battalion headquarters in the city. Rajkhowa, Baruah, and Rajkhowa’s personal security guard Raja Bora were formally arrested by Assam police Friday.
The wives and children who surrendered were not arrested and no charges were framed against them, a police official said.
“Family members of Arabinda Rajkhowa and Raju Baruah (deputy commander-in-chief) have approached us for legal help, and we are providing them legal assistance when they arrive in court,” Bijon Mahajan, a senior lawyer in Guwahati, said.
The arrested trio could be produced in court late Friday or Saturday.
The surrender took place at the Dawki border outpost of the Border Security Force (BSF) around 6 a.m.
“The group was loitering in the border area and then they contacted BSF commanders at the outpost, saying they were from the ULFA and wanted to surrender,” a senior BSF official said. “We are happy with the developments and hope they would engage in peace talks now,” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi Friday said.
The dramatic surrender, according to highly placed intelligence sources, was necessitated after preliminary talks between the ULFA leader and home ministry officials in New Delhi in the last two days failed with Rajkhowa adamant on their demand for sovereignty.
There were earlier reports that Rajkhowa was handed over by Bangladesh Police Special Branch sleuths to BSF officials and then the ULFA chairman was flown to New Delhi and lodged at an army base.
“Since the ULFA leader was adamant on holding talks on their core demand of sovereignty, there was no option but to show them as surrendered,” a senior official said requesting not to be named.
That the surrender was stage managed was evident when the chief minister Thursday told a press conference in Guwahati that a ‘breakthrough was made’ and that the whereabouts of Rajkhowa would be known in ‘days or maybe hours’.
Even union Home Minister P. Chidambaram Wednesday told parliament that in the next few days there would be a political statement from the ULFA regarding talks.
Meanwhile, there seems to be a vertical split in the ULFA with the elusive ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah questioning Rajkhowa’s decision to surrender.
“There cannot be any compromise on our demand of sovereignty (independence) and we want Arabinda Rajkhowa to clarify his stand on the entire episode (his surrender),” Paresh Baruah said in an emailed statement to the local media Friday.
Baruah is against holding peace talks and is believed to be hiding in the Myanmar-China border, according to the chief minister.
“We are ready to hold talks if the central government agrees to discuss our demand for sovereignty,” ULFA vice president Pradeep Gogoi told journalists while being produced in a local court here. Gogoi is in jail since the last 10 years.
A massive security blanket was thrown across the state with police, army, and paramilitary troopers deployed in strength to guard vital installations, including oil facilities, railway tracks, and crowded markets in the event of a backlash by the ULFA anti-talk group.
“We have already stepped up vigil and sounded a massive security alert across the state as there could be a backlash after these developments,” the chief minister said.
ULFA functionary Sasha Choudhury and the group’s self-styled finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika were last month handed over by Bangladesh police to Indian authorities and then later shown as arrested while trying to enter India through the border along Tripura.