Assam government flip-flop over ULFA

June 23rd, 2008 - 1:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Guwahati, June 23 (IANS) The flip-flop by authorities in Assam over dealing with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) separatist group has raised doubts about the government having a definite policy or strategy in addressing the problem of militancy in the area. On Saturday, less than a week after Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi set tough conditions for militants willing to talk peace, the state government let a top ULFA commander walk out of jail by not opposing his bail petition.

Mrinal Hazarika, the first commander of the ULFA’s Myanmar-headquartered 28th battalion, got bail Saturday and was driven out of Dibrugarh jail in eastern Assam. He called journalists Sunday to say he had rejoined his rebel colleagues in the 28th battalion, the ULFA’s most potent strike unit.

Local media reports said the government was trying to sign a ceasefire with the ULFA’s 28th battalion but ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa has denied that any of his units were moving towards a truce with the government.

The authorities may be trying to get the 28th battalion to enter into a ceasefire, but what has aroused curiosity is the government’s decision at this juncture to set tough terms for any rebel group coming forward to talk peace.

Gogoi’s latest pre-conditions for rebel groups wanting to open peace talks are: talks only within the ambit of the constitution, no talks with any group through intermediaries, surrender of weapons by militant groups before a truce or talks and cadres to stay only in designated camps after a truce.

In this backdrop, the arrest Sunday of Hiranya Saikia, a member of the ULFA-appointed People’s Consultative Group (PCG), on charges of links with the rebel group and its elusive military chief Paresh Baruah, has been viewed with interest.

The 11-member PCG was set up by the ULFA in September 2005 to start exploratory talks with the central government and prepare the ground for possible direct talks between the rebel leaders and New Delhi. PCG representatives held three rounds of talks with the government at the highest level but the process broke down following conditions set by both sides.

Saikia, the second PCG member to have been arrested in four months (PCG member Lachit Bordoloi was arrested in February), had admitted to being close to Baruah.

It is the timing of Saikia’s arrest that is interesting. The police has, however, said Saikia was arrested on the basis of a statement by an arrested ULFA militant last week who said he had come to Guwahati to receive “subversive plans” from Saikia to be executed by the group.

At a time when ULFA has been facing major reverses with its cadres getting killed in dozens and surrendering, the government’s blow-hot-blow-cold approach in dealing with the rebel group is seen as a bit of muscle flexing.

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