The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) on Saturday said it was ready to hold peace talks with New Delhi only if its jailed leaders were freed.
"Talks, if any, cannot be held from the prison cell. If the jailed leaders are released, the peace process could begin," ULFA vice chairman Pradeep Gogoi told journalists while being brought to the Guwahati Medical College Hospital for a health check-up.
Gogoi and seven other ULFA top leaders are in prison. The others include chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, deputy commader-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Chouhdury, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, publicity chief Mithinga Daimary, cultural secretary Pranati Deka and the senior-most 70-year-old leader Bhimkanta Buragohain.
Buragohain is presently lodged at the Tezpur jail in northern Assam, while the other seven rebel leaders are at the Guwahati Central Jail.
"The last few days we have been talking about various possibilities for furthering the peace process. It all depends on the government’s sincerity,” the ULFA leader said.
Rajkhowa and Raju Baruah and their wives were arrested Dec 4 at Dawki in Meghalaya after they were handed over to Indian authorities by Bangladesh.
In November last year, Choudhury and Hazarika were also arrested by Indian authorities under similar circumstances.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi Saturday said there were positive signals from the jailed ULFA leaders in pushing the deadlocked peace process.
“I would say there are positive signs coming in. Even if Paresh Baruah (the elusive ULFA commander-in-chief) does not come for talks we can still hope to begin negotiations,” Gogoi told journalists.
Barring Paresh Baruah, almost all the top ULFA leaders are now in jail. ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia is in prison in Bangladesh since 1997 with the Indian government pressing for his deportation.