Fresh moves to revive deadlocked ULFA peace process

March 27th, 2008 - 12:17 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Syed Zarir Hussain
Guwahati, March 27 (IANS) The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) steps into its 30th year of armed rebellion next week with the violent insurgency showing no signs of relenting. But there is a glimmer of hope with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi trying to revive the peace process. Gogoi has offered to facilitate direct talks between the ULFA leadership and New Delhi.

“We are ready to facilitate and support anybody, including opposition politicians or civil society leaders, willing to go abroad (Bangladesh) and explore possibilities for making the ULFA leadership sit for direct talks with the central government,” the chief minister told IANS.

Intelligence and police reports said the top ULFA leadership - chairperson Arabinda Rajkhowa and commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah - are based in Bangladesh, presumably in Dhaka. Bangladesh, however, continues to deny the reports.

In September 2005, the ULFA constituted the People’s Consultative Group (PCG), a nine-member group of civil society leaders, to explore possibilities for holding peace talks with New Delhi.

There have been three rounds of talks between the ULFA-chosen PCG and the central government, including one chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In August 2006, New Delhi offered a unilateral ceasefire and the ULFA too responded by calling a truce.

The ceasefire, however, collapsed in September after six weeks with the government accusing the ULFA of violence and stepping up extortion. Since then, the peace process has been in a limbo with violence continuing unabated.

“The chief minister’s offer for reviving the peace process is a step forward and we welcome his overtures,” Indira Goswami, a noted Assamese writer, told IANS.

For the last four years, Goswami has been the key link between the ULFA and New Delhi with the ULFA formally entrusting her with the task of opening exploratory peace talks. She has held several rounds of informal meetings with the prime minister.

“The first thing we should find out is whether the ULFA wants to talk to some emissary for peace talks. The government and the PCG should meet and then decide whom to send abroad for exploring possibilities for reviving the peace process,” Goswami said.

The PCG has also welcomed the chief minister’s initiative. “We welcome the move and hope the government is sincere in its efforts,” PCG leader Dilip Patgiri said.

The ULFA had earlier said it would sit for talks if the government released five of their jailed leaders and discussed the core issue of sovereignty. New Delhi has rejected the preconditions.

“Talks should be unconditional,” Gogoi said.

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