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Crucial ULFA talks in New Delhi on June 22

New Delhi has announced dates for fresh peace talks with ULFA to end nearly three decades of insurgency.

india Updated: Jun 08, 2006 14:56 IST

New Delhi has announced dates for fresh peace talks with representatives of an influential separatist group in Assam, aimed at ending nearly three decades of insurgency, officials on Thursday said.

The third round of talks between government peace emissaries and an 11-member civil society group from Assam chosen by the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) would be held on June 22 in New Delhi, a home ministry official said.

"Home Minister Shivraj Patil is expected to chair the talks and the agenda is primarily to pave way for signing a bilateral ceasefire agreement and then begin direct negotiations with the rebel leadership," the official, who did not wish to be identified, said from New Delhi by telephone.

The ULFA, a rebel group fighting for an independent Assamese homeland since 1979, last October nominated an 11-member People's Consultative Group (PCG), a team of prominent civil society members.

Two rounds of talks have already been held between the ULFA-chosen PCG and the government authorities with the first round being chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on October 26.

"The June 22 talks would be crucial as several important issues that could ultimately lead to direct negotiations between the ULFA leadership and the government would be discussed," noted Assamese writer Indira Goswami, sought by the outfit to mediate in talks with the government, told IANS by telephone from New Delhi.

The rebel group has demanded the release of at least five senior jailed ULFA leaders before the outfit begins direct peace talks with New Delhi.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said his government had recommended the release of some of the jailed ULFA leaders if that would help in bringing peace to the state. "We are definitely going to ask the government during the talks to expedite the process of releasing the five jailed ULFA leaders, besides creating an atmosphere for the peace process by restraining its military," Goswami said.

ULFA is one of the most organised rebel armies in the northeast where more than 30 militant groups operate with demands ranging from independence to greater autonomy.

At least 15,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency in Assam since 1979 when ULFA, the state's first rebel group, was founded.

First Published: Jun 08, 2006 14:56 IST