Assam militant group expels pro-talk leaders

July 7th, 2008 - 6:52 pm ICT by IANS  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Guwahati, July 7 (IANS) The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), one of northeastern India’s frontline separatist groups, reiterated its belligerent posture Monday by expelling three pro-talk leaders from the outfit who had announced a unilateral ceasefire with the authorities last fortnight. “We have decided to expel Mrinal Hazarika, Jiten Dutta and Jun Bhuyan with immediate effect for violating the ULFA constitution and for breaking rules by announcing a truce with the authorities without approval,” the group’s elusive chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa said in a statement e-mailed to journalists.

The expelled trio were among the top leaders of the ULFA’s crack ‘28th battalion’ who had announced a unilateral truce June 24 saying they had taken the move to facilitate the restoration of peace in Assam, hit by insurgency since the group’s formation 1979.

The pro-talk leaders have expressed surprise over the decision of the ULFA leadership but said their peace efforts would go on.

“We are indeed surprised at the decision by the ULFA leadership to expel us. But, our peace efforts will go on and we shall place matters before the people for their views,” Jiten Dutta, a top pro-talk leader, told IANS by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Earlier, the pro-talk leaders had made it clear through the media that they were ready to face any action by their central leadership over their decision to call a truce, which, they said, was the need of the hour for peace talks to evolve an acceptable solution to the problem of insurgency in Assam.

Key ULFA commanders who had called the truce had urged their top leaders to come for ‘unconditional talks’ with the Government of India and expressed fears that certain forces could try and sabotage the peace efforts.

The pro-talk leaders have said they were forced to call a truce as their central leaders did not respond to key issues raised by them.

“We have been apprising our central leaders about certain key issues concerning Assam and its people, but they failed to respond, forcing us to take this peace initiative,” Hazarika and Dutta, both commanders of the group’s 28th battalion, had said last fortnight.

They added: “For the past two years or so, we have been telling our central leaders that the unabated influx of Bangladeshi migrants has been posing a threat to the identity of the indigenous Assamese people. But, they preferred not to respond.”

Over the past three days, a key pro-talk leader, Hazarika, has been interacting in live television debates in Guwahati, Assam’s capital, besides holding meetings with influential student groups to exchange views on the issue of the truce and the road to peace in the state.

The expulsion of the pro-talk leaders has been viewed by analysts as a demonstration by the ULFA that it has not softened its stance on the issue of its pre-conditions for talks. The ULFA has been insisting that New Delhi must include the issue of ’sovereignty’ in its agenda for possible talks with the group.

“By expelling the pro-talk leaders, the ULFA has tried to show that it is as belligerent as ever and that it was not going to be influenced by the truce called by a section of leaders. The ULFA has sent a signal that it was going to talk on its own terms,” said Wasbir Hussain, Director of the Guwahati-based Centre for Development and Peace Studies, a think-tank.

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