Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement that peace talks could be held with rebel groups only if they laid down arms first has evoked angry reactions, with pro-talk militant factions in Assam terming the precondition as unacceptable.
"The prime minister's precondition of first laying down weapons and then beginning peace talks is unrealistic and hence not acceptable to us," Jiten Dutta, senior leader of the pro-talk faction of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), told IANS.
Manmohan Singh Saturday told reporters in Meghalaya's capital Shillong that the central government was ready to begin peace talks only if the militants first surrender their weapons.
"The precondition of laying down arms first would scare away all those revolutionary groups who were interested in joining the peace process," Dutta said.
Leaders of the pro-talk ULFA faction last week announced giving up their demand for sovereignty or independence and instead decided to harp on the theme of greater autonomy for Assam.
Two potent striking units of the ULFA's 28th battalion, the Alpha and the Charlie companies, in June last year declared a unilateral ceasefire and evinced interest to hold peace talks.
"How can there be separate yardsticks for holding peace talks by the central government? If talks can be held with groups like the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) without any of them laying down arms, why should there be a separate rule for talks with other groups," Dutta asked.
The pro-talk ULFA faction has threatened to resume an armed rebellion if New Delhi delays the peace process by not holding talks with them.
"We would be forced to take up arms and wage an armed revolution for our cause," Dutta said.
Meanwhile, the Assam government has recommended to the central government not to extend the ceasefire with the NDFB, blamed for the Oct 30 serial bombings in the state.
"We have asked the central government not to extend the ceasefire and now it is up to New Delhi," Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.
The ceasefire with the NDFB expired Dec 31 and the truce is still under a cloud with NDFB leaders and home ministry officials holding talks in New Delhi, although no formal extension agreement has been reached.