Brightening hopes of peace in the northeast early next year, Ulfa general secretary Anup Chetia is likely to return to India over the next few months along with 30 to 40 middle rung leaders of the outfit to join the nascent peace process expected to be set in motion with Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa’s release.
“Many of them have started preparations to return to join the peace process… Chetia will also come back at an opportune time,” a senior government official said in Delhi pon Friday.
In Guwahati, chief minister Tarun Gogoi promised them safe passage to come home during the harvest festival, Magh Bihu.
“The majority of Ulfa (United Liberation Front of Asom) cadres are in favour of peace talks. But some are still hiding ... I hope they will accept our offer and come back home,” said Gogoi. With the anti-talks faction of another insurgent group, NDFB, also promising to cease hostilities, Ulfa is the only major group there to stay away from talks.
Gogoi’s offer came a day after Rajkhowa got bail from a Guwahati court. He is expected to be released on Saturday; his bail bonds in six terror cases were submitted to the court on Friday.
Many of Ulfa leaders including 'deputy commander-in-chief' Raju Baruah and general secretary Chitraban Hazarika have already got bail.
Delhi expects the first round of formal peace talks with the Ulfa leadership to begin before the Assembly elections in April. “The substantive talks will be held with the new political leadership in the state after the elections,” a top government source said, pointing that the CM would firm up the dialogue calendar.
Chetia — arrested by Dhaka in 1997 and under detention on completion of his jail term — is expected to play an important role in the peace negotiations, particularly in countering Ulfa’s military chief Paresh Baruah.
Baruah is against the peace talks and sent an email rejecting the safe passage offer soon after it was made.
Chetia, 43, is considered to be only person in the group who can take on Baruah. Government sources, however, believe that Baruah would also come around in due course.