Jailed chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) Arabinda Rajkhowa is all set to step out of prison as the government prosecutor on Thursday did not oppose his bail petition, a step seen as an official attempt to pave the way for peace talks.
"The government of Assam is planning to facilitate the release of the jailed ULFA leaders in a phased manner by not opposing their bail petitions to pave the way for peace talks, and so is the case with Arabinda Rajkhowa," Pradip Kumar Gogoi, special public prosecutor, said.
The court has fixed Dec 20 for final hearing of the bail petition of Rajkhowa, jailed since Dec 5, 2009, after he was handed over to India by Bangladesh upon his capture in that country.
"Peace talks would start only when we are all released from jail," the ULFA chairman told journalists outside the court premises.
Barring ULFA's elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, the entire top brass of the outfit is in jail. The imprisoned leaders included chairman Rajkhowa, vice chairman Pradip Gogoi, publicity chief Mithinga Daimary, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka, and political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.
With demands for releasing the jailed ULFA leaders gathering momentum so as to pave the way for peace talks, the government has embarked on a strategy not to oppose the bail applications of the separatists in court.
The process began and one by one five top jailed ULFA leaders have been released on bail - the government prosecutor not objecting to their bail applications in court.
The first to be released on bail were Pradeep Gogoi and Mithinga Daimary, followed by Raju Baruah and Pranati Deka, and last week the veteran Bhimkanta Buragohain. Rajkhowa is likely to step out to freedom next week.
ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia, however, is in Bangladesh since his arrest there in 1997.
There are chances of Chetia now being extradited to India to help him take part in the proposed peace talks due to start soon once the three remaining jailed leaders are released on bail.
"Now that talks are yet to begin, there is no question of a ceasefire. But once talks begin, then only operations from either side would stop," Rajkhowa said.