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Ex-rebel spills Dhaka beans

Shillong, Dec. 18: The surrendered chairman of a separatist group has revealed that he lived in Dhaka for several years, possibly the first time a militant leader has publicly contested Bangladesh’s claim that it does not host rebels.

Julius Dorphang, the head of a group fighting for over a decade for an independent nation Khasiland carved out of Meghalaya, told The Telegraph in an exclusive interview that top leaders of many Northeast militant groups lived in Dhaka.

“It is true that for better communication with other militant groups and also with others, we, the top leaders, used to stay in Dhaka,” he said at the Mawiong rehabilitation camp, 7km from Shillong.

Dorphang, 44, who headed the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) for several years, surrendered on July 23 after what he describes as ideological differences with his colleagues.

He gave the name of one apartment building where he had lived ó Banani ó “in Dhaka, close to the airport”. Meghalaya police have cross-checked that there is a building by this name.

“However, we used to change places every now and then. Maybe six months in one place and another six months somewhere else,” he said.

Dorphang did not identify any other militant leader who lived in Dhaka. “We used to see each other either in hotels or other rented places.”

But he did say that like the HNLC, the NSCN(I-M) and the National Liberation Front of Tripura 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 locals,” he said.

“We had relations with NSCN and other top militant groups. But we did not have any connection with the Ulfa.”

Although Northeast militants have spoken about acquiring training in Bangladesh at surrender ceremonies, Dorphang is the first top leader to say he lived there. “Why should I hide it? It is a fact,” he said.

Ulfa’s Paresh Barua and Arabinda Rajkhowa, NDFB’s Ranjan Daimary, All Tripura Tiger Force’s Ranjit Debbarma and National Liberation Front of Tripura’s Biswamohan Debbarma are said to be holed up in Bangladesh.

Other top leaders of Dorphang’s own group, HNLC, are also there.

Bangladesh officially denies the presence of Indian militants or their camps on its soil. But privately, it has been making positive gestures to India on several issues, including fugitive insurgents, ever since the military-backed regime took over in Dhaka.

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