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Ball now in ULFA's court for talks, says Goswami

Top rebel mediator and noted Assamese writer Indira Goswami has appealed to ULFA to positively respond to New Delhi's offer of peace talks.

india Updated: Nov 14, 2006 13:37 IST

Top rebel mediator and noted Assamese writer Indira Goswami has appealed to the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) to positively respond to New Delhi's offer of peace talks.

"I request the ULFA leadership to give a letter mentioning the date and time for holding peace talks with the Indian government," Goswami, sought by the ULFA to mediate for talks, told over the phone from New Delhi.

Goswami's appeal comes in the wake of an unconditional offer by Indian government peace negotiators to hold talks with the ULFA.

The latest offer for talks was made by India's National Security Adviser MK Narayanan during a meeting late on Monday in New Delhi with two ULFA representatives-Goswami and Rebati Phukan.

"The ball is now in the ULFA's court as the fresh offer for talks by the government has no preconditions unlike in the past."

"The government is now simply asking the ULFA to give them a letter mentioning the time and date for holding talks," Goswami, who teaches modern Indian languages at the Delhi University, said.

The Indian government on September 24 called off a six-week ceasefire and resumed military operations blaming the ULFA for stepping up attacks and extortions.

In the past one month, ULFA, fighting for an independent Assamese homeland since 1979, has triggered at least two dozen explosions, killing at least 25 people and wounding some 50, besides blowing up oil and gas pipelines.

"I faced a very hostile government team of negotiators in the meeting and was in a very delicate situation in view of the attacks going on in Assam. I never faced such a situation before," Goswami said.

"But the one positive thing that emerged out of the meeting was that the government is still hoping to get the peace talks on."

Peace talks between ULFA representatives and the Indian government formally broke last month after the People's Consultative Group (PCG), a civil society team appointed by the rebels to mediate for talks, pulled out of the peace process blaming New Delhi for calling off the truce.

There were three rounds of talks between the ULFA chosen PCG and the Indian government peace negotiators.

The ULFA wanted the release of five of their jailed leaders as a precondition to holding peace talks. New Delhi in return wanted the rebel leadership to commit in writing that they would come for direct negotiations if the jailed militants were released.

The ULFA was not willing to give it in writing, leading to the collapse of the peace process. "I personally think that it is a big climb down by the government as they simply want the ULFA to give the date and time for talks with no other conditions like in the past," Goswami said.

The ULFA is one of the 30 odd rebel armies operating in India's northeast, where insurgencies have claimed more than 50,000 lives since 1947.

First Published: Nov 14, 2006 13:37 IST