The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) has asked its military chief Paresh Barua not to give up so that the leaders pursuing peace have somewhere to go if talks with New Delhi fail.
The outfit also regretted the killing of 13 schoolchildren at Dhemaji in northeastern Assam on 15 August 2004. It termed the incident as collateral damage and promised a formal apology if the ‘Indian’ government apologizes for state-sponsored terrorism against the Assamese people.
According to the pro-talks Ulfa leaders, Barua’s decision to remain elusive gives them a bargaining chip besides keeping “our option to return to arms” if the peace talks likely to start this month fails.
“There was a reason behind convincing New Delhi that peace negotiation is possible without Paresh Barua,” said pro-talks Ulfa leader Mrinal Hazarika. “We want him away to keep our options to return to guerrilla warfare open if nothing comes out of the talks. But we must also ensure that Barua or his men do not try to mar the peace process.”
Barua is the only top Ulfa leader on the loose, believed to be operating out of northern Myanmar bordering China. All the other leaders of the outfit’s decision-making central executive committee (CEC) including chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa are either dead, in jail or on bail.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi had said he preferred Paresh Barua on the negotiation table, but at the same time maintained his government would “not wait forever”. Rajkhowa and other members of Ulfa’s CEC had also harped about Barua’s indispensability vis-à-vis talks but later indicated they were ready to keep him away.
Rajkhowa, meanwhile, said the Dhemaji incident was an accident. “I am ready to go to the gallows if the people of Assam want,” he said while pointing out that certain sections were determined to derail the peace process by focusing on the “Dhemaji blot”.