Bangladesh sentences Indian separatist leader to life in jail

DHAKA (REUTERS) - A Bangladeshi court sentenced Indian separatist militant Ranjan Chowdhury to life in prison on Wednesday for unlawful possession of weapons and staying in Bangladesh illegally, the public prosecutor in the case said.

Chowdhury's Bangladeshi associate, Pradip Marak, also received a life term after being found guilty of arms and terrorism charges by the court in Kishorganj district, 140km south-east of the capital city Dhaka.

The pair were arrested in 2010 during a crackdown on the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), which is classified by India as a terrorist organisation.

Founded in 1979, ULFA wants to establish an independent nation in India's oil-rich, north-eastern state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh.

"India is our good neighbour and friend which helped us during our liberation period in 1971. So we can not allow any separatist group to use our land against India," public prosecutor Shah Azizul Haque told Reuters by telephone.

The defendant's lawyer, Mizanur Rahman, said the two men, who also received 20,000 taka (S$350) fines, would appeal the verdict.

Bangladeshi security forces recovered pistols, bullets, hand-made bombs and bomb-making materials from Ranjan's hideout when they seized him five years ago.

Ranjan, 46, is married to a Bangladeshi woman and has lived in the country since 1997. Prosecutors say he is a leader of the ULFA and illegally entered the country to meet a ULFA military chief in Dhaka.