Full protection of the identity of Assamese community in their own homeland and major financial package for the rapid development of Assam are the two important issues that were highlighted by the leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom in their nearly two-hour-long familiarisation meeting with the Central government representatives headed by the Union Home Secretary G K Pillai.
An eight-member ULFA delegation headed by its self styled chairman Aurobinda Rajkhowa earlier interacted with the Home Minister P Chidambaram in a courtesy meeting. On Monday, they are scheduled to meet the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
Apart from Rajkhowa, seven other delegation members are political adviser Bhimkanta Buragohain, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, vice chairman Pradip Gogoi, publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary, publicity secretary Pranati Deka, deputy commander Raju Baruah, foreign secretary Shasha Choudhury. Chief Secretary and Home Secretary of the government of Assam and the Additional Director General of Police Khagen Sharma represented the government of Assam in Thursday's talks. Interlocutor P C Haldar besides the IB Chief and special secretary of the Home Ministry also participated in the meeting.
During the first round of formal talks after a gap of 31 years, the ULFA leadership expressed serious concern over the 'loss of identity' in their home state and hinted that this issue along with major financial package for all round growth will be the main highlights of the ULFA agenda which is now under preparation for the proposed peace talks between the Centre and the ULFA leadership.
Later, in a crowded press conference the self styled foreign secretary of the ULFA, Shasha Choudhury described Thursday's meeting as a 'trust building' measure. He also pointed out that there would be no specific time frame for the proposed peace talks. He also clarified that rebel self styled commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah is yet to respond to the proposed peace talks. 'We don't recognise the e-mail reaction sent by anti-talk faction's publicity head Arunoday Dohotiya questioning the ULFA central executive committee and the general council decisions to go ahead with the proposed peace talks with the Centre. Dohotiya was not appointed according to our constitution,' Choudhury said.
He also reiterated today that ULFA made three rounds of attempts since 1992 to enter into a peace dialogue with the Central government, but failed due to its rigid insistence on the non-negotiability of Assam's sovereignty. This time the ULFA had dropped this demand as a precondition to enter into a peace dialogue with the government, mainly to 'honour the wishes of the people of Assam' who were relentlessly urging them to respond positively to the Centre's peace gestures.
Meanwhile, the Centre has decided to set up a core committee to represent the government to continue peace negotiations with ULFA leadership. The next round of formal talks will start once the ULFA leadership is ready with its agenda for the proposed peace talks.
On the issue of ceasefire agreement between the Centre and the ULFA, the ULFA foreign secretary categorically stated that there was no such proposal from the government's side on Thursday. Ministry sources, however, hinted that there is some 'technical problem' to go ahead with the ceasefire agreement at this juncture. Once, the agenda is set and the formal talks begins, this issue will come up.
During his interactions with the ULFA leaders, Home Minister P Chidambaram had assured them that the government would ensure 'serious and meaningful' dialogue to find out just and honourable solution to all the issue raised by them.
On one hand, the Centre has opened peace dialogue with the pro-talks ULFA group, on the other hand, it has mobilised its entire resources to launch a major offensive against the anti-talks faction led by Paresh Baruah. Baruah along with his followers are now reportedly camping in hideouts along the Indo-Myanmar border .
Intelligence sources indicated that the Baruah faction has also developed 'a close liasion' with the Myanmar based Kachin Liberation insurgent group to launch a fresh offensive in Assam. Since Bangladesh has launched operations against the ULFA and other anti-India insurgents outfits, the ULFA has taken shelter in Myanmar with the help of United Liberation Front of Manipur and People's Liberation Army of Manipur.
The UNLF and PLA have their hideouts in Myanmar.
However, the Myanmarese army has recently launched a major combing operations against KIA and other insurgent outfits apparently at the instance of the government of India. This has come as a majr set back for the ULFA and Naga insurgents like NSCN-IM and NSCN-K and all the Manipur based militants outfits. Now it remains to be seen how long the Myanmarese army can continue their offensive against these insurgent outfits.