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Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Mass surrender by Assam rebels

One by one they laid down their arms
More than 500 separatist rebels in India's north-eastern state of Assam have surrendered to the authorities in what is said to be the biggest such move ever.

The rebels, who belong to three of the state's leading separatist groups, gave themselves up at a surrender ceremony pre-arranged with the state government.

Assam's Chief Minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, said the surrenders were a sign that the rebel separatist movement had lost its popular support.

But the leading separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa), has described the surrenders as a stage-managed exercise.

Ceremonial surrender

One by one, 532 insurgents laid down their weapons, including assault rifles, explosives and pistols, in front of Assam's governor.

The chief minister promised "all possible help"
The BBC's Subir Bhaumik reports that 436 of them belonged to the Ulfa, 77 to the Karbin National Volunteers (KNV) and 19 to the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).

The surrenders took place at a ceremony at Ranghar, an amphitheatre dating back to the 13th century and used by the Ahom tribe, the main ethnic group in Assam.

It was the site where the Ulfa was founded 21 years ago.

Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta told the BBC that it was now time for the Ulfa and other rebel leaders to accept that their organisations had lost popular support.

He said rebel groups should enter into negotiations, either with the state or central government in Delhi.

"We shall be providing the surrendered militants with all possible help and support, including vocational training, to enable them to lead a normal life," he said at Ranghar.

Claim contested

But an Ulfa leader, Paresh Barua, described the surrenders as a stage-managed exercise co-ordinated by the authorities to counter support for the rebel groups.

He said only around 30 of those who surrendered belonged to his organisation.

The rest, he said, were either villagers who supported the ULFA or former rebels who had already surrendered.

Lt General DB Shekatkar, who heads the Indian army operations against the rebels, said 1,800 to 2,000 fighters remained in the jungles.

Ulfa is fighting for an independent Assamese homeland and has been locked in a low intensity war with Indian forces for the past decade.

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23 Mar 00 | South Asia
Assam rebels kill 10 soldiers
14 Mar 00 | South Asia
Assam rebels set talks conditions
13 Mar 00 | South Asia
Assam to arm villagers
09 Mar 00 | South Asia
Assam call for action against rebels
27 Feb 00 | South Asia
Assam minister assassinated
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