United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) chairman Rajib Rajkonwar alias Arabinda Rajkhowa and two of his aides were remanded to 12-day police custody after they were produced in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate (Kamrup) in Guwahati on Saturday evening. <b1>
Rajkhowa, ULFA deputy commander-in-chief Raju Barua and 'sergeant' Raja Gogoi, were officially arrested earlier in the day after they declined to de-link the issue of Assam's sovereignty from peace talks.
The three had 'surrendered' to the Border Security Force close to the Indo-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya early on Friday morning along with seven others including four minors. The others including Rajkhowa's wife Kaveri Kachari Rajkonwar - she headed the outfit's women's wing - were not produced in court as there were no cases against them.
The three, ferried in a bus from the Assam Police's Special Branch headquarters in Kahilipara locality amid tight security, were brought to CJM Robin Phukan's court at 5.28 pm. They were taken back after the proceedings ended at 5.53 pm.
"The CJM remanded Rajkhowa, Barua and Bora to 12-day police custody after hearing our plea," said the arrested ULFA leaders' counsel Bijon Mahajan. "They were arrested under section 384 of the Indian Penal Code and section 10/13 of Unlawful Activities Act in connection with a Special Operation Unit case (number 2/98) filed in 1998."
Emerging from the court, Rajkhowa and Barua said "we did not surrender, never will". Rajkhowa, while being ushered back to the bus, said: "Safe passage is a necessity; we cannot sit across the negotiation table as prisoners."
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said the government was considering safe passage for the arrested ULFA leaders to facilitate peace. "But they have just arrived, let them take rest for some more time," he added.
Members of Rajkhowa and Barua's families were allowed to meet them briefly in the court. "We met for the first time since December 1985, and he had just enough time to say he has not let the people of Assam down and that he would never compromise with sovereignty," said the ULFA chairman's younger brother Ajay Rajkonwar.
Meanwhile, ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, reportedly in Yunan province of southern China, said in an email talks with New Delhi was possible even without him. "But sovereignty must be an issue up for discussion."