Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Thursday stopped short of admitting the arrest of Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), but confirmed that a 'breakthrough' has been made.
"I cannot say how the breakthrough has happened, but all I can say is that a breakthrough has happened and maybe within the next few days or next few hours you would know the whereabouts of Arabinda Rajkhowa," the chief minister told journalists.
Gogoi's statement has virtually confirmed that one of India's most wanted separatist leaders is in India's custody.
"We are hopeful of getting some good news very soon and the developments are moving in the right direction. The signals are encouraging," Gogoi said.
Intelligence officials on Wednesday claimed to have taken custody of 53-year-old Rajkhowa after he was reportedly arrested by Bangladeshi security forces and handed over to Indian authorities.
"All I can say is that the ULFA can discuss anything, all issues, except their demand of sovereignty, when they hold peace talks with the government," Gogoi said.
"We on our part are ready to do anything and even release jailed ULFA leaders if the talks progress well and if their release is required to smoothen the peace process."
There are now indications that New Delhi is planning to offer safe passage to the ULFA leader instead of showing him as arrested to facilitate formal peace talks with the outfit, which has been fighting for an independent homeland in Assam since 1979.
"If they want safe passage, we are ready to give. All these issues can be discussed and worked out," the chief minister said.
The chief minister, however, rejected media reports of the arrest of Ranjan Daimary, leader of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in Bangladesh.
The NDFB was blamed for the Oct 30, 2008 serial explosions that killed some 100 people in Assam.