BeyondHeadlines News Desk
New Delhi: A seven-member delegation of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), a separatist group of Assam, met union Home Minister P Chidambaram and top Home Ministry officials in New Delhi and presented the outfit’s “charter of demands,” setting the ball rolling for peace talks with the government to bring about a lasting solution to Assam’s three-decade old insurgency problem.
During the 40-minute meeting, which was also attended by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, the ULFA team led by its Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa presented the demands, contents of which were not available immediately.
“We shall make the charter of demands public at a press conference at 3 pm on Friday,” Rajkhowa said.
However, sources said, ULFA has already given up its demand for a “sovereign state” and is likely to press for more autonomy, special status for Assam and other safeguards for the people there under the Constitution.
Gogoi described today’s meeting as a significant step in bringing peace in Assam and said both state and central governments were sincere about finding a peaceful solution to the problem.
One of the ULFA leaders who took part in the meeting said on condition of anonymity, “We want a time-bound solution and have told the government in no uncertain terms. We don’t want a Naga peace talk type of negotiations (talks between New Delhi and the NSCN began in 1997 and are still continuing without any signs of an accord in sight).”
ULFA, one of the biggest rebel outfits in the tea and oil-rich region of Assam, has fought for an independent homeland for the ethnic Assamese since 1979.
At least 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Assam because of fighting between government forces and various rebel groups.
The much-hyped talks, however, hit a major roadblock with the elusive ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah rejecting the initiative.
Last month, the ULFA had issued a statement saying they will give up violence, suspend all operations and would like to begin talks.
Baruah, said to be hiding in the Burma-China border area, in an e-mail statement said: “We cannot support the peace talks as the ULFA leadership led by Rajkhowa is under the influence of our enemy (government).”
The seven top ULFA leaders who took part in Friday’s talks are out on bail, with the government facilitating their release from jail in order to pave the way for negotiations.
Apart from Rajhkowa, the other ULFA leaders involved in the talks include vice chairman Pradeep Gogoi, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka.
Political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain, 80, did not take part in the talks on health grounds.