Black Widow rebels surrender en masse in Assam, hopes of peace brighten

Black Widow rebels surrender en masse in Assam, hopes of peace brightenHaflong (Assam), Oct 2  About 360 tribal separatists Friday surrendered in India's restive northeastern state of Assam raising hopes of an end to long years of violent insurgency in the region, officials said.

A government spokesperson said 359 militants of the outlawed Jewel Garlosa faction of the Dima Haolam Daogah (DHD-J), more popularly known as the Black Widow, surrendered before authorities and deposited a huge cache of weapons and explosives at a public ceremony at Haflong, the district headquarters of the North Cachar Hills district in southern Assam.

"This is a historic occasion with the DHD-J surrendering en masse. We hope this will pave the way for permanent peace in the region and an end to all forms of violence and bloodshed," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said during his speech at the surrender ceremony.

The Black Widow militants, active in the North Cachar Hills district of southern Assam, had unleashed a reign of terror in the region killing an estimated 100 people so far this year, including attacks on passenger trains resulting in suspension of railway services for months on end.

The DHD-J was formed in March 2003 following a split in the outfit -- the faction led by Jewel Garlosa continued with its fight for an independent homeland for the majority Dimasa tribe, while its rival group led by Dilip Nunisa entered into a ceasefire with New Delhi the same year.

"We hope the central government responds positively to our peace overtures as we have decided to abjure the path of violence and come over-ground," Niranjan Hojai, self-styled commander-in-chief of the DHD-J, said in his speech after laying down an M-16 rifle.

The decision by the Black Widow to surrender follows an ultimatum by central home minister P. Chidambaram last month to lay down arms by Sep 15 or else face a stepped-up military offensive.

The Black Widow suffered a setback with police arresting its chief Jewel Garlosa from Bangalore in June.

The chief minister offered red roses to the rebels as they handed over an assortment of sophisticated weapons, including rocket launchers, rifles, and small arms, besides explosives.

"A small faction of the DHD led by James with about 10 cadres are still in the jungles although we don't have any information about them," Hojai said.

With the DHD-J surrendering en masse, a total of seven militant groups in the state are now in ceasefire with the government, including two factions of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).

However, influential factions of the ULFA and the NDFB are waging separate bush wars in Assam.

"The main worry is from the anti-talk faction of the NDFB and reports of the ULFA regrouping," the chief minister said.

More than 10,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency in Assam during the past two decades. (IANS)