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No repeal of controversial Army law: Antony

Defence Minister AK Antony also said on Wednesday that steps would instead be taken to make the law more "humane".

india Updated: Jan 10, 2007 22:57 IST

Ruling out the repeal of a controversial law that gives the Indian Army unfettered powers of arrest in the northeast, Defence Minister AK Antony said on Wednesday that steps would instead be taken to make it more "humane".

He also said peace talks with an influential Naga separatist group were on track and that the situation in neighbouring Manipur, once "badly affected" by terrorism, was "improving".

Speaking to reporters in this garrison town, 40 kms from Nagaland's commercial capital Dimapur, as he wound up a two-day visit to the northeast, his first since assuming office, the minister also ruled out joint operations with Myanmar to root out Indian rebel groups that had taken shelter in its territory, saying the issue would be tackled through diplomatic means.

Earlier on Wednesday, Antony flew to an Army base at Dinjan, over 500 kms from Assam's principal city of Guwahati, for a briefing on the operations against the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) that is blamed for the killing of 61 Hindi-speaking people in a spate of violent incidents since last Friday. Eleven others, including five policemen and three ULFA cadres, have been killed in different incidents during this period.

Antony, who arrived in Tezpur on Tuesday, held a high-level meeting with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, the Indian Army Chief Gen JJ Singh and other officials to discuss the ongoing operations against ULFA.

Antony was categorical in his reply when asked about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that various groups have charged the Army with misusing under the garb of controlling terrorism.

"The act will stay but with a few amendments. It should be possible to make it more humane," he asserted, adding: "The law has to stay otherwise how else will we meet the threat posed by ULFA?"

"The Army operates in a difficult situation where the lives of soldiers are in danger. When they operate in such difficult situations, they need special protection," the minister maintained.

Referring to the ceasefire with Naga rebel groups that has been in place since 1997, he stated that "talks are on very smoothly to find a honourable solution" to the issue.

"The government of India is very serious and sincere to find a peaceful solution to the Naga problem," Antony asserted, adding: "There is an atmosphere of peace in the state and all round support for finding a peaceful solution."

Indian government interlocutors are scheduled to hold another round of talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

As for Manipur, Antony said the situation had improved to the extent that "government officials can work without fear". In this context, he said the successful conduct of assembly polls next month "would be a great boost to the peace process".

Speaking about Myanmar, the minister said there was "concern" over ULFA rebels sheltering in its territory "but we will not interfere in the internal affairs of another country".

"We have conveyed our concern and we hope (the Myanmar government) will take it up", Antony said, even as he maintained that relations between the two countries, particularly in the defence sphere, "are now stronger".

First Published: Jan 10, 2007 22:57 IST