Bangladesh hands top separatist leader over to India

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) - Bangladesh handed the founder of a militant separatist group to India on Wednesday, a rebel leader that for years New Delhi had fought to extradite. Anup Chetia founded the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) more than three decades ago and had been imprisoned in Bangladesh for the last 18 years after being charged with staying in the country illegally and unlawful possession of foreign currencies. He completed a seven-year sentence but was kept in a jail on the outskirts of Dhaka, as India and Bangladesh, where he had applied for political asylum, struggled to agree to the terms for his extradition. "I welcome the handing over of Anoop Chetia to India by the Bangladesh government," Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Twitter. Bangladesh's Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters that as well as Chetia, ULFA leaders Laxmiprasad Goswami and Babul Sharma had also been handed over. Chetia is expected to arrive on Indian soil later on Wednesday. The ULFA is one of the largest of the many rebel groups active in India's restive northeast, a remote and underdeveloped region that is home to dozens of ethnic groups, many of whom are campaigning for greater autonomy, statehood or even secession. The group, which once ran several bases across the border inside Bangladesh, has demanded a separate state carved out of Assam and accuses New Delhi of plundering the region's mineral and agricultural resources. Fighting in the northeast has killed thousands over the last few decades and although violence has subsided as some groups lay down their arms, hundreds are still killed each year. Chetia's transfer comes amid improving ties between India and Bangladesh, with both keen to boost trade and security along the border and to fight human trafficking. Earlier this year the two countries signed an historic land boundary agreement, more than four decades after the neighbors first tried to resolve the complex territorial disputes. (Reporting by Biswajyoti Das in GUWAHATI and Ruma Paul in DHAKA; Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Michael Perry and Ryan Woo)