The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) on Friday announced that it would halt its guerrilla campaign in response to New Delhi's decision last week to temporarily suspend military operations against it in Assam.
"ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa conveyed through telephone the group's decision to reciprocate positively the Indian government's decision to halt anti-insurgency operations," Lachit Bordoloi, a rights activist and a member of the ULFA-chosen civil society group to mediate for talks with New Delhi, said.
The government on Aug 14 announced suspension of all military operations against the ULFA for 10 days as a "goodwill gesture" in an effort to jump-start the peace process.
Talks between the government and ULFA representatives began in October last year but have not led to any breakthrough. A group of 11 civil society leaders in the region - collectively called the People Consultative Group - has held three rounds of talks aimed at paving the way for direct dialogue.
The first round was chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last October. The last round was held in New Delhi June 22.
"We are respecting the wishes of the people of Assam for peace and hence our decision to respond positively despite the police continuing with their offensives even after New Delhi's decision to suspend anti-insurgency operations," the ULFA chief was quoted as saying.
The rebel leader also demanded the release of five of their jailed leaders. "We want our leaders to be released immediately to pave the way for direct talks with the government."
The ULFA, a rebel group fighting for an independent Assamese homeland since 1979, was blamed for a wave of bombings in the run-up to the Aug 15 Independence Day that killed at least a dozen people and wounded 60 others.
Meanwhile, a two-member PCG team on Friday met National Security Adviser MK Narayanan and Home Secretary VK Duggal in New Delhi and conveyed the ULFA's decision to scale back its guerrilla offensives.
"We also requested the two officials to expedite the release of the five jailed ULFA leaders so that direct talks between the government emissaries and the top ULFA leadership can begin," Indira Goswami, a noted Assamese writer and leader of the PCG, said over phone from New Delhi after the meeting.