The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) Saturday said unconditional peace talks with the central government will begin Feb 10, in a move that may bring the curtains down on more than three decades of insurgency in Assam.
“Formal peace talks with the government of India are expected to begin in New Delhi Feb 10 with no conditions from either side. We expect a mutually acceptable solution to the long standing Assam-India conflict,” ULFA ‘Foreign Secretary’ Sasha Choudhury told journalists Saturday.
This is the first formal ULFA statement regarding the holding of unconditional peace talks with the government. The ULFA leader refused to elaborate.
“We had taken the decision to open unconditional peace talks at our general council meeting,” he said.
The talks, to be held in New Delhi, will be led by ULFA Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa. The government side could possibly be headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram or Home Secretary G.K. Pillai.
Indian government peace interlocutor P.C. Haldar and Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi are expected to take part in the first round of the talks.
“We are communicating the decision of the General Council meeting to our Commander-in-Chief Paresh Baruah and we are sure he would endorse our views. In fact, Paresh Baruah is bound to accept the general council (decision),” Choudhury said.
The ULFA leader, however, said vested interests were trying to scuttle the peace process. “We must be careful as vested interests were desperately trying to block the peace talks.”
With assembly elections around the corner, there are fears that the ULFA could be used or support the ruling Congress party. “Let us make it very clear that we shall have no role to play in the elections and we shall keep away from politics at this point in time,” Choudhury said.
Barring the elusive Paresh Baruah, almost all top ULFA leaders are out on bail, with the government facilitating their release from jails to pave the way for peace talks.
The leaders out on bail are Arabinda Rajkhowa, Vice Chairman Pradep Gogoi, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Raju Baruah, Choudhury, Finance Secretary Chitraban Hazarika, Cultural Secretary Pranati Deka and octogenarian political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.
Paresh Baruah is believed to be holed up somewhere along the China-Myanmar border and his stand on the peace talks is still unclear.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh authorities Saturday handed over three more ULFA members to Indian frontier guards at Dawki area in Meghalaya, an official said.
ULFA ‘captain’ Upen Buragohain alias Antu Chaudang, ‘second lieutenant’ Pradip Chetia and corporal Saurav were handed over to the Border Security Force (BSF) after they were long captured by Bangladesh security forces in that country.
“The Bangladesh Border Guards have handed over the three ULFA rebels to us (BSF) this (Saturday) morning at Dawki and simultaneously we handed them over to Assam Police,” the BSF official told IANS on condition of anonymity.
The trio has been taken to Assam for further interrogation.
ULFA publicity cell manager Arun Dohotia had earlier claimed that Buragohain and Chetia were picked up by Indian intelligence agencies in Bangladesh Dec 13.
The ULFA was formed in 1979 with the objective of carving out an independent homeland in Assam. The over 30-year-old insurgency has claimed more than 10,000 people.