The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Demoralised rebels quit
- 33 return to ‘mainstream’ with promise to start life afresh

Tamulpur (Baksa), Oct. 23: After 18 years as an Ulfa militant, Nagen Rabha today traded his gun and the power to kill, abduct and extort for a humble government stipend of Rs 2,000 per month and a Rs 1.5-lakh fixed deposit account.

“The Ulfa leadership does not care for lower-ranked cadre. There are several frustrated members like me,” he said, reprising what militants are wont to saying at mass surrender ceremonies organised by the army and police.

As many as 30 other Ulfa militants and two more from the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front laid down weapons along with him, giving security forces a second taste of success in just over a week. The “commander” of the A-Company of Ulfa’s 28 Battalion, Pranjal Saikia, surrendered at an army base in Upper Assam on October 16.

If Pranjal’s surrender was described as a blow to Ulfa’s strike force in Upper Assam, today’s mass surrender was touted as the beginning of an exodus from the militant group and an erosion of the 709 and 109 battalions, both of which operate in Lower Assam.

“We have received feelers from more militants willing to surrender. We are expecting a few more to return to the mainstream very soon,” director-general of police R.N. Mathur said.

The chief of the army’s 4 Corps, Lt Gen. B.S. Jaswal, principal secretary (home) Subash Das, inspector-general of police (operations) Khagen Sarma and the head of the Red Horns Division, Maj. Gen. Gyan Bhushan, led the official contingent at the ceremony.

Gen. Jaswal inaugurated a training centre for surrendered militants at the Tamulpur base of the Red Horns Division. Each batch of 60 former militants will be trained in computers, driving, carpentry, fishery, poultry and mushroom farming, apiculture, painting and photography. The period of training could stretch upto a year.

The former rebels will be provided a place to stay as well as food during the training period. The entire package is in line with the Union home ministry’s rehabilitation scheme for former militants of the Northeast.

For those like Rabha, alias Karna Das, life will now be vastly different from what they were used to for over a decade. A “2nd lieutenant” in Ulfa’s 709 Battalion and a resident of Baksa district, he said most Ulfa members had lost motivation to chase an illusory goal.

Bhavesh Patgiri, alias Pratap, was the other senior Ulfa functionary to surrender. He was a “sergeant major” in the same Unit. The two women members who quit the militant group — Surati Rabha, alias Noni, and Ranima Khaklari — said they were missing home more than anything else.

“I was tired of staying away from home. I now want to be with my family,” said Ranima, who had undergone training at militant camps in Bhutan.

The militants deposited an assortment of weapons, including an AK-47 rifle, two from the AK-56 series, a muzzle-loaded gun, 10 pistols, five revolvers and as many grenades. They also brought with them 10kg of explosives, wireless radios and ammunition. There are additional cash incentives for surrendering weapons, ammunition and explosives.

Gen. Jaswal said the army’s fight was not against militants but militancy. “These youths have realised their mistake and have returned to the mainstream. We accept them and will do everything possible to help them begin a new life.”

The 4 Corps chief said the families of the militants who surrendered deserved plaudits for motivating them to abjure violence. Relatives of some of the reformed militants attended the function.

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