Paresh Baruah, the military chief of the banned outfit United Liberation Front of Asom, seems to be enjoying China's hospitality as his presence in the neighbouring country has been confirmed by the arrested head of a Manipuri militant group.
United National Liberation Front chief R K Sanayaima alias Meghen, arrested in December in Bihar by the National Investigation Agency, confessed during interrogation that he had met the elusive 'commander-in-chief' of ULFA during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.
Highly-placed sources said the Manipuri militant leader also told NIA investigators that both of them held intensive talks in Shanghai about the activities of the two outfits, future plans, arms procurement, and the casualties suffered during the offensive launched by security forces.
The Shanghai World Expo was held between May 1 and October 31 in 2010. Sources said 54-year-old Baruah has been based in Yunnan province of China, bordering Myanmar, but he frequents northern Myanmar's Kachin areas.
Interestingly, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had informed the Rajya Sabha in December that India had taken up with China the issue of Baruah's presence in that country in the wake of reports that Chinese authorities have issued a visa to him.
"The government has seen media reports of such a visit. The matter was taken up with the Chinese side, which has denied his presence in China," Krishna had said.
The ULFA leader, against whom an Interpol Red corner notice was issued on February 14, 1997, has been steadfastly opposed to any peace dialogue with the government to bring lasting peace in insurgency-hit Assam, even though most of his colleagues including 'chairman' Arabinda Rajkhowa are ready for talks.
Centre's interlocutor P C Haldar on Wednesday indicated that the dialogue with the ULFA may begin in the next few weeks as the government and the outfit's leadership were inching closer to the parleys.
Rajkhowa, after a meeting with Haldar on Thursday, appealed to the government to facilitate the extradition of ULFA's general secretary Anup Chetia from Bangladesh in the interest of the peace talks.
Though Rajkhowa was mum about Baruah's participation in the dialogue, Haldar said, "It is not about holding talks with Paresh Baruah or anybody else. For us, we are holding talks with the ULFA, not with individuals."