ULFA holds peace talks, says meeting positive

August 5th, 2011 - 2:52 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 5 (IANS) Holding its first round of peace talks with the central government, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) Friday sought a definite timeframe for a permanent solution to three decades of insurgency in Assam.

A seven-member ULFA delegation, led by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, met union Home Minister P.C. Chidambaram and top home ministry officials in New Delhi. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi was also present at the meeting.

“We submitted our charter of demands to the government and the first meeting ended on a positive note,” the ULFA chairman told IANS after the 80-minute meeting.

Gogoi told IANS after the meeting, “I am confident the two sides would be able to hammer out a permanent solution to the insurgency problem with both sides flexible on their approach, which is a good sign.”

The details of the ULFA charter of demands were not immediately known, although their demand for sovereignty or independence are apparently not part of the two-page demand note handed over to the home minister.

“We shall make the charter of demands public at a press conference at 3 p.m. Friday,” Rajkhowa said.

One of the ULFA leaders who took part in the meeting said on condition of anonymity, “We want a time-bound solution and have told the government in no uncertain terms. We don’t want a Naga peace talk type of negotiations (talks between New Delhi and the NSCN began in 1997 and are still continuing without any signs of an accord in sight).”

ULFA, one of the biggest rebel outfits in the tea and oil-rich region of Assam, has fought for an independent homeland for the ethnic Assamese since 1979.

At least 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Assam because of fighting between government forces and various rebel groups.

The much-hyped talks, however, hit a major roadblock with the elusive ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah rejecting the initiative.

Baruah, said to be hiding in the Myanmar-China border area, in an e-mail statement said: “We cannot support the peace talks as the ULFA leadership led by Rajkhowa is under the influence of our enemy (government).”

The seven top ULFA leaders who took part in Friday’s talks are out on bail, with the government facilitating their release from jail in order to pave the way for negotiations.

Apart from Rajhkowa, the other ULFA leaders involved in the talks include vice chairman Pradeep Gogoi, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka.

Political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain, 80, did not take part in the talks on health grounds.

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