A top separatist leader of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was released on bail by a district court and was soon after whisked away in a three-vehicle carcade by unidentified associates, officials said on Sunday.
A police spokesman said that Mrinal Hazarika, former self-styled commandant of ULFA's 28th battalion, the outfit's most potent striking unit, was released on bail and the rebel leader stepped out of the prison cell in Dibrugarh in eastern Assam on late Saturday.
Hazarika was arrested from a hotel in Siliguri in West Bengal in May 2006 and was charged on 15 counts in cases ranging from murder to kidnapping and extortion. Earlier, he got bail in 14 other cases and a Tinsukia court on Saturday granted his bail plea for the last case.
Hazarika's release on bail has led to speculations that the government was trying to use his services to broker a peace deal with the ULFA's top leadership, particularly the 28th battalion of which he was the commander until his arrest in 2006. Authorities have refused to comment on the issue.
Despite Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi earlier in the week adopting a belligerent posture by putting several preconditions for talks with the ULFA and denying reports of any move about a ceasefire with the 28th battalion, there are reports of the government trying to engineer a split in the ULFA and bringing a faction to enter into a truce.
The ULFA has reacted strongly to the reports.
"The reports of a ceasefire are nothing but an attempt to create confusion among the cadres," ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the ULFA-constituted People's Consultative Group (PCG), a group of civil society leaders formed to explore possibilities of peace talks with New Delhi in 2005, has termed the chief minister's preconditions as unfortunate.
"At a time when the people of Assam and the ULFA are seeking a peaceful solution, the chief minister's statement has come as a shock," said PCG member Dilip Patgiri.
Gogoi said that militants must surrender arms and stay in designated camps, besides agreeing to discuss anything under the ambit of the constitution, before any ceasefire was reached.