Outlawed ULFA’s fugitive leader Golap Baruah alias Anup Chetia was on Wednesday handed over to India by Bangladesh, 18 years after his arrest — a move that is expected to give a push to peace talks in Assam.
According to a top official, Bangladesh Rifles handed over Chetia to the Border Security Force (BSF) at Dawki — a border trade centre between India and Bangladesh — in Meghalaya around 2 on Wednesday morning. He was later flown to New Delhi by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
India described this as a major breakthrough and said it would help the authorities crack several other major cases related to the outfit and its affiliates.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina “and thanked her for the help in fighting terrorism”.
Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju told media: “It’s India’s team effort led by the prime minister… and as far as the handing over of Chetia is concerned, it will be decided by relevant agencies.”
India has been of late successful in getting custody of underworld dons Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje alias Chhota Rajan and Abu Salem, and ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa.
Chhota Rajan, once a close aide of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, was arrested in Indonesia in October and brought to India on November 6. Abu Salem, wanted for his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, was brought to India from Portugal in November 2005.
Rajkhowa was brought to India from Bangladesh in December 2009, after he surrendered before Indian authorities at Dawki in Meghalaya.
A PMO official told media, requesting anonymity: “He (Chetia) has been handed over to India following the request of Prime Minister Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.”
“The Central Bureau of Investigation will take custody of Chetia. (Chetia) will have to face trial in India for various crimes committed by him in Assam, which include murder, kidnapping and extortion,” he said.
Chetia is wanted by India to stand trial in various criminal cases of extortion, kidnapping, murder and attempt to murder.
Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal confirmed in Dhaka that Chetia has been handed over to India.
“Chetia has been handed over to India legally after completing his prison term,” the Bangladesh home minister told media persons.
Chetia being handed over to India is seen as an effort to speed up the paralysed peace talks between the Indian government and the pro-talks faction of ULFA led by the outfit’s former chairman, Rajkhowa, who along with a group of other senior ULFA leaders had surrendered to the Indian authorities in 2009.
Both the Assam government and the members of the pro-talks faction of ULFA have been demanding the extradition of Chetia since the peace process got underway in 2010.
The deportation of the 48-year-old founder member of ULFA comes after a extradition treaty was inked between India and Bangladesh in 2013.
The treaty’s absence was the major reason behind the delay in the deportation of the insurgent leader.
Chetia and his two bodyguards were arrested from his plush apartment in North Adabar under Muhammedpur police station in Dhaka on December 21, 1997, for illegally entering Bangladesh and for illegally carrying foreign currency and a satellite phone. Chetia was tried and sent to jail.
His prison term ended on February 25, 2007, and he was kept in the Kashimpur Jail on the outskirts of Dhaka since 2012 in view of a Dhaka High Court directive to keep him in safe custody until the Bangladesh government decided on his plea for political asylum.
The rebel leader was earlier arrested by Assam Police in 1991, but released later on the intervention of then chief minister Hiteshwar Saikia, after which the ULFA leader fled to Bangladesh. In Assam, Chetia faces charges of extortion, murders and attempts to murder.
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi called the development a great achievement and said he will write a letter to the central government to hand over Chetia to Assam Police as soon as possible.
“I am happy… we have been demanding his extradition for so long. He is very influential and his presence will help the India-ULFA talks see a solution. He is more influential than the chief of ULFA anti-talks faction Paresh Barua,” Gogoi told a TV channel.
Chetia founded the ULFA in 1979 with five other leaders, including the outfit’s commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah who is now believed to be hiding somewhere in China or Myanmar, having escaped Bangladesh earlier.
The Assamese separatist leader had sought political asylum in Bangladesh on three occasions – in 2005, 2008 and in 2011. He also applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for political asylum in Bangladesh, contending he had been fighting for a sovereign Assam.
But later Chetia sought that his application for political asylum in Bangladesh should be cancelled as he wanted to be part of the ongoing peace talks between the government of India and the ULFA.