A 22-member team comprising top Assam government officials and leaders of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) is set toto formally initiate the peace process on Wednesday, amid threat by the outfit’s anti-talks faction to make Assam bleed again.
Elusive Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, believed to be holed out in northern Myanmar with some 150 fighters, has rejected the peace process being pursued by his former colleagues and vowed to carry on his battle to liberate Assam from ‘colonial India’.
Leading the Ulfa delegate is its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa. The others, all members of the outfit’s decision-making central executive committee, include deputy commander-in-chief Raju Barua, general secretary Pradip Gogoi, foreign secretary Sashadhar Choudhury, finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika and publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary.
Assam chief secretary NK Das also took the afternoon flight with the Ulfa leaders along with additional DGP (special branch) Khagen Sarma, home commissioner Jishnu Baruah and 11 other officials.
Earlier in the day, Rajkhowa and the other rebels met chief minister Tarun Gogoi at his official residence to iron out some rough edges in the peace process. “Everything augurs well for the future of Assam,” the chief minister said, hoping for an early solution to the three decades-old insurgency.
Gogoi also came down heavily on Paresh Barua terming him a perennial troublemaker. “Terror has become a way of life for them (Barua’s men), but our forces are equal to the task,” he said.
Chief secretary Das said the delegation would be meeting Union home minister P. Chidambaram Thursday morning before holding ‘introductory talks’ with Union home secretary GK Pillai. Former IB chief and the Centre’s interlocutor PC Haldar would be attending the meeting.
The Ulfa leaders are also expected to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh since he represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha. February 13 has been marked as a tentative date for a meeting between the PM and the Rajkhowa-led Ulfa delegate.
The Ulfa was formed in April 1979 prior to the launch of the six-year Assam Agitation to rid the state of illegal settlers. It carried out extortion, abduction and killing before a split in 1992 saw more than half the outfit surrendering. The outfit regrouped to become a terror again before New Delhi’s coordination with Bhutan and Bangladesh weakened it and led to the capture of most of its leaders since December 2003.