‘ULFA missed chance to start peace talks with Delhi’

July 18th, 2008 - 7:48 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

Guwahati, July 18 (IANS) Leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), one of northeastern India’s frontline separatist groups, Friday said the organisation’s leadership missed an opportunity to start a peace dialogue with the Indian government when it expressed its willingness to discuss all core issues raised by the outfit. “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had written a letter to our chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa saying the government was prepared to discuss all core issues. We think our leadership should have seized that opportunity and should have agreed to start peace talks,” said Mrinal Hazarika, a commander of the pro-talk 28th battalion of the ULFA.

Hazarika, Jiten Dutta and other leaders of Alpha and Charlie companies of the ULFA’s potent 28th battalion were speaking to academics, civil society leaders, journalists and leading citizens at an interaction on the current peace initiative in Assam organised by the Omeo Kumar Das Institute for Social Change and Development here Friday.

The prime minister had written a letter to the ULFA chairman in the wake of a few rounds of discussions that had taken place between the ULFA-appointed People’s Consultative Group (PCG) and the central government between 2005 and 2006.

The parleys had led to a temporary halt to military operations against the ULFA but the offensive was resumed in September 2006 after the talks broke down.

There was a ceasefire from Aug 13, 2006. It was called off after just six weeks.

The separatist leader said the current logjam in Assam could be broken only if the ULFA and the government agreed to sit for unconditional talks.

“ULFA will obviously not ask for roads and bridges when it sits for talks with New Delhi. It will obviously raise its key demand of sovereignty for Assam. The government can argue its point of view. But for that stage to be reached, unconditional talks are a must,” Hazarika said.

The Alpha and Charlie companies of the 28th battalion 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 in 1979.

The ULFA has since expelled Hazarika, Jiten Dutta and another senior leader for calling a ceasefire saying the move was a violation of the rebel group’s constitution and rules.

The pro-talk leaders categorically stated Friday the group’s exiled central leadership may have failed to appreciate the ground situation in Assam.

“From a distance, our central leaders may have failed to appreciate the ground situation where the people want peace. We have been briefing them but they may have found it hard to believe us,” Hazarika said.

The leaders said they have embarked on a mass contact programme to gauge the mood of the people and have realised the masses want peace restored in the state.

“We may receive the death penalty from our central leadership, but we are bent on moving ahead on the path to peace. We hope a time will come when our central leaders will see reason and come forward to lead the peace process,” Hazarika said.

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