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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 November, 2003, 10:07 GMT
Massacre survivor's marriage hopes

By Alastair Lawson
BBC correspondent in Dhaka

There's a sense of excitement in the quiet village of Sidhaik Akalibari, in the far-eastern Indian state of Tripura.

Pramod Sarkar is getting married next month.

Pramod Sarkar
Pramod Sarkar believes he must re-marry and start life afresh

It's spectacular news, because seven months ago, Mr Sarkar survived a brutal raid on his village by a group of insurgents.

His wife and family were killed in the attack, which also robbed Mr Sarkar of his left hand.

In all, 20 people died on the fateful night last May when militants from the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) entered the village and fired indiscriminately at everyone in their path.

"They came at around midnight," recalls Mr Sarkar.

"They moved from house to house systematically shooting anyone who got in their way... I lost my entire family including my wife, two sons and teenage niece."

"They even killed a baby who was only 17 days old," he said.

"I will never be able to forget the horrors of that terrible night," says Mr Sarkar, "but I have decided that I want to rebuild my life again after this tragedy.

"That's why I have decided to re-marry. I have to start my life again, otherwise all is lost for me."

No end in sight

For other villagers, the path to rehabilitation is not so easy.

Niyati Das is still in a state of trauma.

Indian border guard
Hills and forests mean an outright victory is unlikely against the rebels

She has a vacant look in her eyes and is constantly wringing her hands in grief.

"The insurgents burst through my door and shot my husband dead instantly," she said, "they also fired at me but luckily they missed."

"It was a terrible night and I feel sick remembering it."

"How they could carry out such horrors - including the murder of children - I really don't know," she said.

Similar incidents - though on a much smaller scale - take place on a near-weekly basis in Tripura, even though the state government says it has made many offers of unconditional peace talks with the two main insurgency groups, the ATTF and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT).

But neither group has yet responded to the offers, and it looks like there's no end in sight for an insurgency that has raged on, almost unnoticed, for at least three decades.

Segregated villages

The state of Tripura is surrounded on three sides by the eastern border of Bangladesh, and 70% of the population comprises Bengali-speaking settlers.

The settlers arrived in the state in large numbers after the partition of India and the separation of East Pakistan - now Bangladesh - from the Indian state of West Bengal.

The ATTF and the NLFT are made up of indigenous people - referred to by the government as "tribals" - who say that they are being discriminated against by the majority community.

Almost every week there are reports of Bengali speaking people being attacked and killed by the two groups.

Although most indigenous people do not support the two insurgency groups, many feel that their ancestral homeland is being overwhelmed by Bengali settlers.

They complain that they're being excluded from schools, houses and hospitals and argue that they are not treated fairly when it comes to land distribution and clean water.

Barely a quarter of a mile from the village of Sidhaik Akalibari - which is made up almost entirely out of Bengali settlers - is a similar looking village inhabited entirely by Tripuri indigenous people.

Across the state, villages are segregated in the same way.

The Tripuri are the largest out of 19 tribal groups in the state. Most are Christian, but some are Hindu and Buddhist.

We have to do everything in our power to protect what I call the victim population
Alexander Daniel, Border Security Force

The headman of the Tripuri village Padmamohan de Burma says that the insurgents often force villagers to support them at gunpoint.

"Many of us feel that these groups are inhibiting the development of indigenous areas because they have made it so dangerous for government officials and workers to build schools and hospitals," he said.

"I don't believe that murdering Bengali settlers is the answer to all our problems. "We should instead work to sort out our differences peacefully."

Retaliation fears

The leadership of the two insurgent groups is located deep in the central hills of Tripura.

They rarely give interviews to journalists, preferring instead to hand out leaflets calling for a "Free Tripura."

But experts say that despite 30 years of fighting, they have not clarified their long term aims.

Soldier
Indian police say the rebels have camps along the Bangladesh border

All that is known about them is that they sometimes attack paramilitary forces and steal weapons and ammunition.

Matters are made more complicated because the ATTF and the NLFT are rival groups who often resolve their differences violently.

Both groups target civilians, although the ATTF has been accused of carrying out mass killings while the NLFT is more selective.

Even though hundreds of Bengali settlers have been killed since the insurgency began, so far they have not carried out any retaliation attacks.

But the head policeman of the state, Alexander Daniel of the Border Security Force, says there's always a danger this will happen unless the insurgents can be stopped.

"Which is why," he says, "we have to do everything in our power to protect what I call the victim population.

Tough terrain

Tripura rebels
The Tripura rebels are driven by a resentment of the Bengali community

Meanwhile, the state's politicians say that they want to emulate the peace process of another far-east Indian state, Nagaland, where the rebel group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, has recently entered into negotiations with the government.

If the authorities don't succeed in holding talks with the insurgents, they will face a difficult task defeating them militarily.

That's because they operate in hilly and densely vegetated country alongside the border between Bangladesh and Tripura.

Delhi says that many of them have camps in Bangladesh - but Dhaka strongly denies this.

And while the killings continue, Bengali settlers such as Pramod Sarkar continue to see their lives ruined.

For this widower and hundreds of others like him, the insurgency in Tripura cannot come to an end soon enough.




SEE ALSO:
Indians attack Bangladesh village
20 May 03  |  South Asia
Tripura on strike over massacres
08 May 03  |  South Asia
Rebels kill 30 in Tripura
07 May 03  |  South Asia
Indian rebels massacre villagers
27 Jan 03  |  South Asia
Analysis: Tripura's tribal strife
21 May 00  |  South Asia


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