Government not talking ‘core issues’ with ULFA, says Goswami (Supersedes earlier version) (Attn Editors: Please take this and ignore the earlier version, which has errors)

June 3rd, 2008 - 1:05 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 3 (IANS) The government has deviated from its initial position of discussing all the core issues with the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), says mediator and Assamese writer Indira Goswami. “The central government has deviated from its initial position of discussing all the core issues that includes the demand for sovereignty of Assam by ULFA. Both the parties have to sit at the negotiating table with an open mind to carry the peace process ahead,” Goswami told IANS on telephone from Guwahati.

Goswami, one of the prominent members of the mediating Peoples’ Consultative Group (PCG), said the group would appeal to both the ULFA and the central government to restart the stalled negotiations.

This comes days after Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said militant groups would have to “surrender their arms and shun violence” as a prerequisite for talks.

“Within a week, the PCG will formally appeal to both to the ULFA and the government to restart the peace process which has hit a roadblock,” said Goswami, a prominent PCG member.

“Both the parties are currently maintaining silence with respect to the peace process. The PCG strongly wants the talks to restart once again. Unless both the parties agree to listen to each other, it seems there will be no end to the almost three-decade-long insurgency in Assam.”

According to government records, over 10,000 people have died in rebel violence in the state since 1979.

In September 2005, ULFA declared the formation of the 11-member group PCG as an initiative to hold negotiations with the Indian government. Two rounds of talks were held between the PCG and the government from October 2005.

The third round of talks, scheduled in May 2006, failed to take place as mistrust prevailed between both the groups over ULFA’s contentious demand of sovereignty of Assam.

Goswami, a Jnanpith award winner, is miffed that the government has put up preconditions for talks to go forward.

Sources in the chief minister’s office maintained that Gogoi was ready for talks with ULFA provided they shunned violence and talked within the parameters of the constitution.

After the Unified Command Structure (UCS) meeting of the security forces and the political leadership in Dispur last week, Gogoi said talks with the ULFA would resume only after the anti-India militant group dropped the demand for sovereignty.

“We want to make it clear to all rebel groups of the state that peace talks can be held only within the framework of the constitution,” Gogoi said.

“Till the time militant groups shun violence, the question of cessation of army operations doesn’t arise. Army operations are always there and will continue.”

At the first meeting between PCG and the government, the group put forward six demands as conditions for talks, including one for a sovereign and independent Assam. But with both sides not able to meet each other even half way, the talks broke down as well as the ceasefire agreement.

Indian officials say the peace process hit a roadblock because ULFA continued to indulge in violence. As the peace process derailed, the validity of PCG was came under scanner.

“Achieving peace is our mission and we’re continuing with our effort. After last year’s appeal in September, we are going to appeal to them again soon,” Goswami said.

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