A fragile peace in Assam is in jeopardy with New Delhi refusing to extend a ceasefire with the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) unless the outfit gives a written commitment to holding direct talks.
National Security Adviser MK Narayanan told ULFA representatives late on Friday that the government would, however, wait for a couple of days before resuming military operations against the rebels.
The ceasefire expired last on Wednesday. The central government had on Aug 13 announced the suspension of military operations against the ULFA to facilitate holding of peace talks with the rebel outfit.
The ULFA too reciprocated the government's 'goodwill gesture' by announcing cessation of hostilities for an indefinite period.
"I tried my best and will have no regret even if the talks fail now... I am a bit disappointed as things did not happen to my expectations," Indira Goswami, noted Assamese writer, said.
Goswami, sought by the ULFA to mediate for peace talks, is the leader of the People's Consultative Group (PCG), a team of civil society leaders chosen by the ULFA for beginning exploratory talks.
The PCG is meeting on Saturday to work out a formula to save the peace process from breaking down. "I still do not say the process has collapsed," Goswami said.
ULFA had communicated through the PCG that it was ready to hold direct talks with the central government provided five of their jailed leaders are released. Home Minister Shivraj Patil in June announced that the government was ready to consider the demand.
Holding of direct peace talks between the ULFA leadership and government peace negotiators were, however, deadlocked with New Delhi seeking a formal letter from the outfit stating that it was ready for direct talks, naming the outfit's negotiating team members and specifying a timeframe for the dialogue.
The ULFA maintains that the outfit was not in a position to take a decision and write a letter to the government without their five central committee leaders, who are currently in jail, and hence insisted on their release first.
On Friday, the ULFA broke the temporary cessation of hostilities by killing a policeman in eastern Assam during an encounter. The police team was on a visit to a tea garden to investigate an extortion demand by the outfit when the attack took place.
As the ULFA and the government get bogged down in preconditions, the common people in Assam are craving for peace and would like to see the talks begin.
"We want the two sides to be flexible and not adopt a belligerent posture that could jeopardize the fragile peace," Kanak Deka, a retired schoolteacher, said. Deka's son, who was in the police force, was killed by the ULFA three years ago in a gunfight.