The last of the eight top leaders of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), Chitraban Hazarika, was released on bail on Wednesday, brightening hopes of curtains coming down on the more than three-decade old violent insurgency in Assam.
Self-styled Ulfa finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika was released on bail from the Guwahati Central Jail - the last of the eight top jailed rebel leaders to have been set free after the Assam government prosecutor raised no objection to his bail petition in court.
"I would like to thank the state and the central government for facilitating my release and also the release on bail of all the other Ulfa leaders by respecting our desire for opening peace talks to bring about a political settlement to the problem," Hazarika told IANS soon after being released on bail.
The process of the government facilitating the release on bail of jailed Ulfa leaders began in March 2010 with Ulfa vice president Pradep Gogoi stepping out of jail.
That was followed by the release on bail of Ulfa publicity chief Mithinga Daimary, octogenarian political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain, cultural secretary Pranati Deka, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, and on Tuesday self-styled foreign secretary Sashadhar Choudhury.
Barring the elusive Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, who is reportedly hiding in then northern Myanmar jungles bordering China, the entire rebel leadership is now in Assam, and all are out of jail on bail.
"I sincerely hope Paresh Baruah would come and join the peace process," Hazarika said.
The idea behind the government not objecting to the bail petitions filed by the Ulfa leaders was to engage the top eight separatist leaders in peace talks.
"We shall very soon hold an executive meeting and talk in details about the peace process and maybe work out modalities for opening formal negotiations with the government," Rajkhowa said.
"From our side, we are ready for unconditional peace talks with the government. After the executive meeting, we shall hold the Ulfa general council meeting to take a final decision on peace talks."
The Ulfa, formed in 1979, has been fighting for an independent homeland. Its 31-year-old insurgency has claimed more than 15,000 lives and left hundreds of others maimed for life.
"We are optimistic of a settlement and see no problems in a solution as long as the government is sincere in its approach," Rajkhowa said.
"We are happy the Ulfa leaders have decided to join the peace process and from our side we are ready to walk the extra mile and even approve the idea of the Ulfa leaders joining politics as well," Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.
"We hope 2011 would be a very good year for the people of Assam."