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Army won't hit ULFA for now

In a goodwill gesture to bring ULFA to the negotiating table, the Govt decided to halt actions against it for a few days.

india Updated: Aug 14, 2006 01:34 IST

In a goodwill gesture to bring ULFA to the negotiating table, the government on Sunday decided to halt all operations by security forces against the militant outfit for a few days.

"We have advised army and other security forces in Assam to suspend their operations against ULFA for a few days," Union Home Secretary VK Duggal said.

"However, this does not mean that if they (ULFA) resorts to any misadventure that will not be replied back. Appropriate action will be taken," Duggal said.

The decision to suspend the operations -- meeting a key demand of ULFA -- is seen as a gesture as part of government's efforts to bring the militant group leadership to the peace talks.

The decision comes days ahead of a crucial meeting between the mediators between United Liberation Front of Asom and the Centre here next week to discuss modalities for initiation of direct talks between them. 

Noted Assamese litterateur Indira Goswami and Rebati Phukan, a childhood friend of ULFA 'Commander-in-Chief' Paresh Barua, are expected to meet Duggal and National Security Advisor MK Narayanan on Wednesday.

Goswami, who has been mediating between the government and ULFA, said welcomed the government's decision describing it as "a very big breakthrough."

"I am really happy and we welcome the government decision," she said, adding "we appeal to ULFA to reciprocate this gesture shown by the government.

"As per my information, the government has decided to suspend the operations for 10 days and we will try to extend this for an indefinite period," Goswami said.

The suspension of army operations against the militant outfit was one of the three major demands of ULFA before joining the negotiating table. The other two demands are release of five of its key arrested leaders and tracing three of its cadres missing since the operations against them in Bhutan.

The Centre had recently expressed concern over spurt in violence by ULFA cadres in Assam in the run up to the Independence Day and asked the militants to stop the attacks to help take forward the peace talks.

The government now expects that the outfit would exercise restraint as the Centre had assured it of seriously examining the possibility of release of its five key ULFA leaders.

While ULFA has communicated to the Union Home Ministry that its precondition for direct talks with the Centre was the release of the five leaders, the government favoured their release only after ULFA gave a written assurance for participating in direct talks.

ULFA has been resorting to serial blasts since mid-2004 mainly targetting the government installations and security forces.

After a lull, the militants recently struck in a big way in Assam leaving several security personnel injured in grenade attacks.

Two days back, five policemen were killed in an attack on the convoy of a senior police officer in Tinsukia district. 

During their talks with Duggal and Narayanan, Goswami and Phukan are expected to apprise them about ULFA's views on the holding of direct talks.

"We will meet them, maybe on Wednesday. We will see how to go about framing modalities for the proposed direct talks between the two sides," Goswami said.

The mediators are likely to press for a clarification from the Centre on ULFA's demands for the release of five of its jailed leaders, tracing missing cadres in Bhutan and the key demand of sovereignty for Assam.

The move comes in the wake of reports that ULFA has re-established base in Bhutan, three years after the group was uprooted from the Himalayan Kingdom after the Royal Bhutan Army launched a military operation against it.