Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Monday said the government's six-week ceasefire to the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was a blunder with the rebels taking advantage of the truce to regroup and spread out their cadres across the state.
"In retrospect, I admit the judgment may be a little wrong when we offered a ceasefire to the ULFA," Gogoi said in an exclusive interview.
"Our intentions were positive and done in good faith thinking the ULFA would come for peace talks, but they utilised the truce to regroup, collected arms, and then spread out their cadres to different parts of the state," he said.
The federal government on August 13 announced a unilateral ceasefire initially for 10 days for the ULFA to shun violence and come for talks. The rebel group reciprocated the gesture by announcing an indefinite truce.
"It is true that the security operations were slow during this ceasefire period as we sincerely believed the ULFA would come to the negotiating table. It was a gambit, but then the ULFA belied our trust," Gogoi said.
But on September 24, the central government called off the ceasefire and resumed military operations blaming the outfit for stepping up violence and extortions.
"The ULFA definitely lacks sincerity in holding talks," the chief minister said.
The ULFA, fighting for an independent Assamese homeland since 1979, went on a killing spree for four straight days beginning January 5 by targeting migrant workers in eastern Assam.
Some 73 people were killed in the mayhem, 61 of them being migrant workers, mainly from Bihar.
On January 8, a massive counter-insurgency operation was launched in Assam and adjoining Arunachal Pradesh state where the ULFA have set up bases to carry out their hit-and-run guerrilla strikes.
"The operations are going on in full swing, but then the hostile terrain is proving to be an advantage for the ULFA. They are not located in one particular area where the soldiers can go and just capture them," Gogoi said.
"The ULFA militants are now on the run and crossing over from Assam to Arunachal Pradesh, Myanmar and even Nagaland and our troops cannot enter all the places."
The ULFA have training camps in Myanmar's northern Sagaing division.
But despite the geographical disadvantage, security forces have managed some early success.
"You cannot expect instant results although we have managed some results already in the early operations," the chief minister said.