More than 10,000 people have been killed since 1979 when the insurgents began fighting for greater autonomy for their ethnic communities in Assam. — Photo by AFP

GAUHATI: Hundreds of militants in jungle fatigues lined up to surrender weapons Tuesday as several insurgent groups formally joined a cease-fire with the government in a step toward ending a three-decade insurgency in northeast India.

The 676 fighters who handed over weapons to authorities at a sports stadium in the Assam state capital of Gauhati are members of nine of the more than 20 groups fighting the government in the remote northeastern state.

More than 10,000 people have been killed since 1979 when the insurgents began fighting for greater autonomy for their ethnic communities in Assam. However, over the past two years, the groups have begun to reach cease-fire accords and enter peace talks with the government.

Tuesday's event in Gauhati brought the number of groups in talks to 15 — leaving about a half-dozen still fighting.

Senior army and police officers stood by as Home Minister P. Chidambaram assured the ex-fighters they would be embraced back into society.

''We shall make sure each one of you are able to enjoy equal rights now that you have shunned violence,'' Chidambaram said.

He also said that the government was close to signing comprehensive peace deals with some of the groups, but did not elaborate.

Previously, the government has said it was open to discussing demands for more autonomy in areas including civic administration, finances and cultural rights.

The militants have argued over the years that Assam's indigenous people — most of whom are ethnically closer to groups in Myanmar and China than to the rest of India — are ignored by the federal government that sits 1,000 miles away in New Delhi.

They also accuse the Indian government of exploiting the northeast's rich natural resources.

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