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Assam hopes for peace with ULFA-Centre talks
Enaxi Saikia Barua in Guwahati | October 14, 2005 11:17 IST
The insurgent group, United Liberated Front of Assam's decision to initiate peace talks with the Centre has brought a ray of hope for the people of Assam, battered by 26 years of militancy.
Peace initiator Indira (Mamoni) Roisam Goswami, former top ULFA militant Sunil Nath, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, the prime minister's office and leading citizens see this as the light at the end of the tunnel of insurgency into which the state was pushed into on April 7, 1979 when ULFA was born.
Exchanging individual conditions for talks by both the ULFA and the Centre, the militant outfit's commander-in-chief Paresh Barua had, on September 7, asked Goswami to convey to the PMO his outfit's willingness for peace talks.
The next day its chairman Arabindo Rajkhowa announced a nine-member Peoples Consultative Group, including prominent Assamese journalists, for working out the modalities for the formal talks with the Centre.
Goswami, a Jnanpith awardee and noted Assamese writer, who had initiated the peace process with the ULFA leadership last year, described the militant outfit's move 'as a major breakthrough' in the peace process. She said the government should seize this last opportunity as the ULFA had itself expressed its willingness for talks.
"It is not only a matter of the talks but it involves the people in Assam who have seen enough bloodshed," Goswami pointed out. Preferring to stay in the wings of the talks, despite ULFA's wanting her to be present at the discussions as its chief mediator, Goswami said she saw herself only in an advisory capacity, if required, and would give her views if things went wrong.
To queries on ULFA's sudden positive response to the talks, Goswami said, "A lot of speculative and negative media reports have come out recently that ULFA is not willing to carry forward the peace process. So, they wanted to tell the people that they are serious about the talks."
National Security Advisor M K Narayanan had responded positively to ULFA's willingness for the talks and wanted the first round of parleys to take place in the first week of October, she said.
'A positive step' is the reaction of former ULFA top leader Sunil Nath, who as the outfit's then central publicity secretary, was instrumental in taking to the public the underground organisation's ideological messages and its demand for sovereignty of Assam.
Talking to PTI, Nath said, "Even more positive is ULFA's decision to include representatives from the public in the People Consultative Group."
Nath has distanced himself from ULFA after he, along with 35 other top leaders, stormed into the Janata Bhawan (the seat of the government) in Guwahati on March 31, 1992.
The ULFA split into two over ideological differences with his leadership. He was hopeful about the insurgency problem being solved if the talks were held in the 'right spirit'.
"The situation this time is different from what it was when we held the first round of peace talks with former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao in Delhi on January 11, 1992, at the behest of our leaders who wanted us to work out a bilateral ceasefire," he said.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, expressing happiness at the 'positive attitude' shown by the ULFA for talks, said, "The proposed talks would help in ushering in permanent peace in the region. From the government's side we welcome any such move to bring them to the dialogue table."
Asom Sahitya Sabha president Kanak Sen Deka was optimistic about the parleys yielding results. He had earlier offered his Sahitya Sabha's services as a mediator between ULFA and the Centre.
Prior to ULFA's first initiative for peace talks with the Centre in January 13, 1992, the outfit had declared a unilateral ceasefire on February 28, 1991, in view of school examinations then. Due to continuing militancy, Assam was declared a disturbed area and ULFA banned on November 28, 1990.
Two major army operations 'Bajrang' in September 1990 and 'Rhino' a year later were launched against ULFA, which also suffered a setback when 'Operation All Clear' was launched by the Royal Bhutan Army in December 2003 to flush out the ultras setting up camps in the Himalayan kingdom adjacent to Assam
In March 2002, ULFA itself had sent out a 'desperate appeal' through its mouthpiece Freedom to hold talks with the Centre.