With strong reports coming from Bangladesh that Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), had been arrested, the government on Wednesday announced that the Ulfa was expected to come forward for talks in the next few days.
<b1>“Ulfa is in disarray today… In the next few days, I expect the ULFA leadership to make a political statement… a positive statement,” Home Minister P Chidambaram told the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
Chidambaram said the government was willing to talk to the ULFA leaders provided “they abjure violence and there is no demand for sovereignty”.
According to sources, Rajkhowa was picked up on Monday from his Dhaka residence. He had been hiding in Bangladesh for over a decade.
Some reports claimed he had not been formally arrested, but would be informally handed over to Indian intelligence agencies at the Gakul Nagar outpost in Tripura on the Indo-Bangla border soon.
Home Secretary GK Pillai and his Bangladesh counterpart Abdus Sobhan Sikder —who is in Delhi for talks — said, however, they did not have official confirmation of Rajkhowa’s detention. But official sources have not even confirmed the arrests of two other ULFA leaders – ULFA’s ‘foreign secretary’ Sasha Choudhury, and ‘finance secretary’ Chitrabon Hazarika – who were caught at the Tripura border on November 5.
Intelligence officers insisted that Bangladesh had been “very cooperative and determined” to clear out Indian insurgents who treated their country as a safe haven, ever since Sheikh Hasina came to power last year.
The change in Dhaka’s approach was very visible at the three-day home secretary-level talks that ended on Wednesday.
Rajkhowa and Paresh Barua, who heads the military wing of the ULFA, have been its two main leaders ever since the organisation was founded in 1979.
But lately they were reported to have fallen out. While Rajkhowa maintained the group should hold talks with the Indian government, Barua was dead against it, unless the talks related to ULFA’s main demand — the sovereignty of Assam.
Two companies of Ulfa’s 28th battalion — the group’s crack unit — have also already declared unilateral truce
and favoured talks. Reports have claimed that Choudhury and Hazarika too favoured talks, and had not in fact been captured, but had surrendered.
Ulfa had been operating from Bangladesh since 1991, its dependence on Dhaka increased after the Royal Bhutan Army cleared out its camps in Bhutan in 2003.