NEW DELHI – Bangladesh handed over a top separatist leader to India on Wednesday, officials on both sides said, after the two countries spent almost two decades arguing over his extradition.
Anup Chetia, founder of the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom group, was arrested in 1997 and sentenced to seven years in jail in Bangladesh for illegally being in the country.
But Chetia, whose group fought Indian rule of northeast Assam state bordering Bangladesh, spent 11 more years in custody while officials struggled to agree on terms to return him.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he spoke with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina about Chetia, thanking her “for the help in fighting terrorism”. Chetia is wanted in India for alleged killings, abductions and extortion during his group’s struggle in remote Assam.
According to Indian media reports, New Delhi had long sought his repatriation but successive governments in Dhaka refused.
Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told AFP that Chetia’s extradition was long delayed as “he did not want to go at that time. He is released (now) according to his wish.”Dhaka spent years dealing with Chetia’s requests for political asylum in Bangladesh, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. Chetia’s handover comes at a time of improved ties between India and Bangladesh as well as the signing of an extradition treaty between the two countries in 2013. Earlier this year, the neighbours sealed a decades-long border dispute following Modi’s visit to Bangladesh.
Chetia was reported to be living in Bangladesh ever since he fled India in the early 1990s after he was released from an Indian jail in 1991. Chetia is the second fugitive brought to India this month after Indonesia handed over wanted gangster Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje on Friday.
ULFA, which started an armed independence struggle against Indian rule in 1979, declared a unilateral ceasefire in 2011, paving the way for a peace accord between the Indian government and the rebel group.
One of the largest rebel groups, ULFA accused New Delhi of exploiting the region’s natural resources. But following the deal the group scaled down its demands and is now seeking an autonomous ethnic region under Indian rule. More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have lost their lives to insurgency in Assam during the past two decades.