Shillong, Dec. 18: The surrendered chairman of the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) has endorsed what the Centre and the state governments have been propagating for so long ó that almost all Northeast militant groups have bases in Bangladesh.
The HNLC leader, Julius Dorphang, said Dhaka has long served as a base and meeting place for leaders of several outfits.
Dorphangs claim of being a resident of Dhaka for several years and that he stayed in an apartment called Banani close to the airport could open up a can of worms and lead to a fresh diplomatic tussle between the two neighbours.
Meghalaya police have authenticated the existence of Banani.
In an exclusive interview to The Telegraph at the Mawiong rehabilitation camp, 7 km from Shillong, the 44-year-old Dorphang said for better communication with other militant groups, the top leadership of rebel outfits used to stay in Dhaka. Dorphang came overground on July 23 after leading the outfit for several years. He was shifted to the camp immediately after his arrest because of security reasons.
Dorphang, however, did not divulge details of any of the top militant leaders staying in Dhaka. We saw each other either in hotels or at other rented places. However, we changed places every now and then. Maybe six months in one place and another six months somewhere else. He claimed he could not recall the names of any hotel as my boys used to arrange the stay in hotels.
The rebel leader admitted that this is for the first time any militant leader was announcing that he had stayed in Bangladesh. Why should I hide it? he asked.
Known as the moderate face of the HNLC, Dorphang had initially formed the militant Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC) in mid-1992 along with John Kharkrang and Cheristerfield Thangkhiew. The organisation comprised both Khasis and Garos.
In December 1995, all three met in Bangladesh and renamed the HALC as the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).
The HNLC has been waging a war for an independent homeland for the Khasis though its firepower has come down considerably in recent times after several activists were killed in encounters or surrendered. Officially, 182 HNLC cadres have surrendered till now.
Other top leaders of the militant group, including self-styled commander-in-chief Bobby Marwein and general secretary Cheristerfield Thangkhiew, are still in Bangladesh. Police claim that the strength of the HNLC in Bangladesh would be around 44 at present.
Dorphang said when he reached Bangladesh for the first time, he was helped by Andrew Syiem, a close relative of the late Wickliffe Syiem, the Syiem (chieftain) of Nongstoin. Wickliffe had refused to sign the instrument of accession, which facilitates the merger of Khasi states with India.
Dorphang had written a book titled The Life and Struggle of U Wickliffe Syiem, which also includes the HNLCs points of view about its struggle for secession.
He said apart from the HNLC, other militant groups, including the NSCN (I-M) and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) have camps in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
I came to know that the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) had to disband a camp because of a misunderstanding with the local residents, he said. We had maintained relations with the NSCN and other top militant groups. But we did not have any connection with Ulfa.
Dorphang ó who was a law student, a teacher, author and finally a rebel leader ó said he came overground because of ideological differences with other HNLC leaders.
To be continued