Over 1,600 insurgents belonging to three factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) formally laid down arms before Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma at a ceremony in Guwahati on Thursday, three days after the centre signed a historic accord aimed at restoring peace in the Northeast.
While this is being seen as a major step in Union Home Minister Amit Shah's efforts to bring an end to the three-decade-old armed conflict in the region, questions have also been raised over the terms of surrender agreed upon by the two sides.
As part of the accord signed on January 27, the Bodoland Territorial Region will get a special financial package of Rs 1,500 crore and cases registered against many insurgents will be reviewed. However, lawyers have objected to any move aimed at releasing those being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the National Investigation Agency on charges of mass murder and waging war against the state in connection with the 2008 Assam serial blasts case.
Among the NDFB leaders in question are Bishnu Goyari, Ranjan Daimary and Binod Mushahary. A CBI charge sheet filed in 2009 lists 687 pieces of evidence aimed at proving that three used cars were bought for carrying out terror attack and how a woman insurgent had smuggled in bomb timers from Bangladesh.
"The cases registered by the National Investigation Agency against NDFB leaders involve brutal crimes such as mass murder. They should not be reviewed. Justice should not be throttled in the name of peace," said human rights lawyer Aman Wadud.
Over 80 people were killed in the bomb blasts and nearly 500 injured when a series of blasts rocked Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Barpeta Road and Bongaigaon on October 30, 2008. Last January, a special court sentenced 10 of the 14 convicted in the crime to life imprisonment.
Kaleshwar Teron, an 80-year-old resident of Assam who lost his eldest son in the Guwahati blast, was just as vehement. "Since Biren's death, we have been carrying a lot of pain inside. The verdict in the CBI case gave us some relief to that pain, but this decision brings us grief," he said.
The Assam government has assured that the insurgent leaders will not receive a blanket reprieve. "Once a case is registered under the law, it is for the courts to decide on it. State authorities have no view on it. While the accord says that the government will petition for the withdrawal of non-heinous crimes, those involving non-heinous crimes will remain in the jurisdiction of the court," said Himanta Biswa Sarma.
However, NDFB founder Ranjan Daimary sounded positive. "The government has assured us that it will try and help us on this," he said.
Welcoming the surrender of the 1,615 insurgents at the Thursday event, Sarbananda Sonowal had expressed confidence that the move will inspire others who were yet to give up arms to come together and work for "Team Assam". More than 4,800 weapons - including AK-47 rifles, light-machine guns and sten guns - were recovered on the occasion.
(With inputs from PTI)