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Friday, 29 November, 2002, 22:29 GMT
Indian rebels ban women
Sharmila and Makai
Sharmila and Makai left the rebel group to be together

Separatist rebels in India's north-eastern state of Tripura have said they will not recruit any more women into their ranks.

The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) says it has executed three of its guerrillas in the last two months after they had been found trying to elope with female rebels they had been courting.

Tripura map
The group has recruited 70 women in the last five years.

The order, issued by the NLFT and signed by its chairman Biswamohan Debbarma - known as D Baithang - was disclosed by a guerrilla of the organisation who surrendered to the state police last week.

'Normal life'

Tripura police spokesman Jaidev Das told the BBC: "Many of these young guerrillas are totally frustrated with the life in the jungles.

"When they meet females, some of them want to marry and return to normal life."

But despite the executions, one NLFT "sergeant" Makai Debbarma married his colleague Sharmila and surrendered to police recently.

Mr Debbarma said: "I was fed up with killing people. I was fed up with running around in the jungles. When I fell in love with Sharmila, I was determined to marry her and flee."

But Sharmila and Makai are scared.

"The NLFT will try to kill him and me," Sharmila explained and added: "They will not tolerate this. So we will have to be very careful."

Lucrative package

Taking advantage of the frustration amongst the rebels, the Tripura Government has announced a lucrative rehabilitation package for rebels who surrender.

If large numbers of guerrillas who are involved in combat get married, it will surely dampen their morale

Dhananjoy Reang

"I am sure many of the rebels will take advantage of the package and surrender," said Jaidev Das.

The NLFT guerrillas have been accused of carrying out a large number of rapes in Tripura since the rebel group was formed in 1992.

Last year, the Tripura Women's Commission detailed at least 30 such rapes by the rebels since 1996.

Most of the victims belonged to the Reang tribe who straddle Tripura's borders with Mizoram and Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts.

An actress, Anita Reang, who has acted in some local films, had to flee from Tripura after her family was asked to give her hand in marriage to the NLFT's commander-in-chief Dhanu Koloi.

Anita now lives in the Hailakandi region of neighbouring Assam.

Gang rapes

In late 2000, the NLFT was accused of gang-raping seven Bengali Muslims at Raiabari in southern Tripura.
Tripura guerrillas at a conference
Many guerrillas are frustrated at their jungle lives

The youngest of the victims, who was just 12-years-old, said she was gang-raped by three NLFT guerrillas.

This was the first time any tribal guerrilla group in India's troubled north-east has been accused of such large scale rapes.

Sex in the north-eastern states - which are dominated by tribes of Mongoloid origin with a matriarchal social structure - is not considered taboo and rapes are rare.

So when the NLFT was faced with such large scale allegations of rape, its leaders decided to increase the recruitment of women.

But then instead of living with them or having occasional sex, the NLFT guerrillas started getting married in their bases.

After marriage, many of the guerrilla couples started fleeing from the bases and some of them surrendered.

Dhananjoy Reang, the NLFT's founder-chairman said: "It is fine for leaders to get married because they stay with their families and plan strategies.

"But if large numbers of guerrillas who are involved in combat get married, it will surely dampen their morale."

Mr Reang is now back to normal life, having surrendered seven years ago.

See also:

21 May 00 | South Asia
30 May 02 | South Asia
11 Feb 02 | South Asia
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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