ULFA-constituted panelist arrested, top rebel released on bail (Lead)

June 22nd, 2008 - 7:40 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

Guwahati, June 22 (IANS) Police in Asasm Sunday arrested a member of the People’s Consultative Group (PCG), constituted by the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom, even as a top separatist ULFA leader was released on bail by a district court, officials said. A police spokesman said Hiranya Saikia, a member of the PCG, a civil society group formed by the ULFA in 2005 to explore possibilities of holding peace talks with New Delhi, was arrested by police Sunday afternoon from his business establishment in Guwahati.

“Saikia was arrested on charges of aiding and abetting militancy,” a senior police official said requesting he not be named.

Saikia and eight other PCG members had three rounds of talks with the central government, including the first round with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in October 2005.

Police and intelligence officials were interrogating Saikia.

On Saturday night, Mrinal Hazarika, former self-styled commandant of the ULFA’s 28th battalion, the outfit’s most potent striking unit, stepped out of a prison cell in Dibrugarh in eastern Assam after he was released on bail by a court.

Hazarika Sunday told a local TV channel by telephone that he has once again gone underground and back with his cadres.

He was arrested from a hotel in Siliguri in West Bengal in May 2006 and was charged on 15 counts for cases ranging from murder to kidnapping and extortion. Earlier, he got bail in 14 other cases and a Tinsukia court Saturday granted his bail plea for the last case.

Hazarika’s release on bail has led to speculations that the government was trying to use his services to broker a peace deal with the ULFA’s top leadership, particularly the 28th battalion of which he was the commander until his arrest in 2006.

Authorities have refused comment on the issue.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi earlier in the week adopted a belligerent posture by putting several preconditions for talks with the ULFA and denying reports of any move about a ceasefire with the 28th battalion. However, there are reports that the government was trying to engineer a split in the ULFA and bring a faction to enter into a truce.

The ULFA have reacted strongly to the reports. “The reports of a ceasefire are nothing but an attempt to create confusion among the cadres,” ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa said in a statement.

The chief minister said militants must surrender arms and stay in designated camps, besides agreeing to discuss anything under the ambit of the constitution, before any ceasefire was reached.

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