Assam CM urges ULFA(I) chief Paresh Baruah to abjure violence, join peace talks
Himanta Biswa Sarma, newly-inducted as the chief minister of Assam, on Monday, indicated that the state government is open to holding diplomatic talks with leaders of the banned militant outfit ULFA in order to curb the radical separatist movement in the state. "I urge ULFA(I) commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah to abjure violence and come to the discussion table. Both the parties will have to come forward for peace talks," said the Assam chief minister.
Formed in 1979 with the aim of creating a sovereign Assam, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is the biggest militant outfit in Assam, seeking to establish an independent state for its indigenous people with armed conflict. Although banned by the Indian government in 1990 citing terrorist threat, the organisation had clearly marked its 'military' and 'political' wings, with Paresh Baruah heading the former as 'commander-in-chief'. A faction led by former ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa joined the peace process in 2011, but Baruah who renamed his faction as ULFA (Independent) has rebuffed all offers of talks to date.
Last month, the banned outfit abducted three employees of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) from its Lakwa oil rig in the Sivasagar district along the Assam-Nagaland border. Following this, security forces ramped up their counter-insurgency operations, killing a top ULFA(I) commander and arresting one of his aides, thwarting the outfit's plan to carry out more such "high-profile kidnappings". Two of the abducted employees have been rescued since, while the search is on for the third.
Police have arrested over a dozen persons in connection with the Sivasagar incident, including an Assam Police constable who was among the five persons who abducted the ONGC employees. The state government, as well as the Indian Army's military intelligence wing, continues to meet the insurgency with force, and significant progress was claimed to have been made with the surrender of the outfit's deputy commander-in-chief (C-in-C) Drishti Rajkhowa in Meghalaya last year.
Paresh Baruah's current whereabouts are unknown, but experts believe he is presently based in China's Yunnan province and travels frequently to several nations in Southeast Asia. Although Baruah had said, in a telephonic interview to a local Assamese news channel in Guwahati last year, that the ULFA(I) would only join talks with the Centre if sovereignty is the main agenda, it remains to be seen how Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma's new appeal is responded to, considering the banned outfit's stated 'one-point agenda'.