Counter-Terrorism: Gangster Rebels Get Rich

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September 16, 2008:  India has defeated the tribal separatists in its northeast. But there are still thousands of armed rebels out there who, while no longer fighting to throw off Indian rule, are now making a good living as bandits. In a common pattern the world over, and throughout history, defeated rebels find themselves with few post-rebellion options. This is especially the case with rebels who are wanted for murder, rape and other serious crimes. Amnesty programs often do not cover these offenses. There is an easy way out for these guys. They simply keep up their fund raising activities, and simply keep the money for themselves, rather than for the cause. This works especially well for those rebels who were very good at typical rebel fund raising techniques like  extortion, kidnapping and smuggling. This is what has happened in India's northeast, and it is a big mess.

There has been rebel activity in the seven states of northeast India (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya) for over 60 years. The total population of this area is 39 million, with most of it (72 percent) in Assam. There, with a population of 28 million (about the same as Iraq or Afghanistan), rebel violence left 439 people dead last year. That's up from 242 in 2006, and 254 in 2005. The violence goes back to the fact that Assam, and the other six states, were never part of India until India was created by the British in 1947.   Many of the dozens of ethnic groups in Assam did not want to be part of India, and resented the influx of people from other parts of India. Twenty years ago, this resentment became more violent.

The rebel groups sustained themselves through various extortion activities, and outright theft. Corruption has always been a problem in the region, and the several thousand armed rebels makes it worse. While only 129 rebels were killed in Assam last year, 1,627 were captured or surrendered. Most of the dead (65 percent) were civilians, with the rest (24) being security forces. There were 500 violent incidents involving the rebels, but many more cases where the rebels intimidated or terrorized people. Over the last few years, many of those rebels who could walk away (because they were not well known to police), did so. But the hard core have dug in and become gangsters.

 Over the past five years, the government has eliminated rebel sanctuaries in neighboring Bhutan and Bangladesh. But the rebels have adapted, and continued to operate. There are four main rebel groups, each composed of several factions. Attempts to negotiate a comprehensive peace deal have failed, largely because of factions, and the continuing resentments by over a dozen (of over fifty) ethnic groups in the state that do not want to be a part of India. Attempts to placate the rebellious populations have failed, largely because of rebel attacks, and corruption. Even expanding the local police force has been difficult, because of a lack of qualified (literate) recruits, and threats (against police and their families) by the rebels.

 


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