The Assam Cabinet on Wednesday decided to initiate the process of talks with the insurgent United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), even without Paresh Barua, the self-styled commander-in-chief of the outfit.
The decision came a day after Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram gave Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi a free hand to decide on the talks with ULFA and the National Democratic Front of Boroland (Ranjan Daimary faction).
Mr. Chidambaram had said that the Centre would support the State in carrying forward the political process with the insurgent outfits.
Mr. Gogoi told journalists said that the government would wait for the ULFA's response and proceed accordingly.
“If Mr. Barua comes forward, it is well and good. We waited for him. We wanted to talk with the ULFA, including Paresh Barua. However, we had also maintained that we could not wait for him indefinitely. So, the Cabinet decided to initiate the process of talks with ULFA even without Mr. Barua,” he said.
Asked if jailed ULFA leaders would be released to facilitate the process, the Chief Minister said the government would first wait for the ULFA leaders' response before taking the next step. He, however, said his government would make all efforts to bring ULFA to the negotiation table.
The jailed ULFA leaders have been insisting that they have to be freed first to be able to take a decision on holding talks.
To another question, Mr. Gogoi said same principles would apply in the case of the NDFB( Ranjan Daimary faction), and the government would start the talks process with outfit if it came forward to talk.
Describing the Cabinet decision as “a very big decision,” the Chief Minister said it had been taken as there were indications that most ULFA central committee members were in favour of talks. The State would inform the Centre about the Cabinet decision, he added.
Of the 15 central committee members of ULFA, six are currently in jails. These include ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka, ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.
Vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi and central publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary are on bail, while general-secretary Anup Chetia is lodged in a Bangladesh jail.
Three ULFA central committee members have remained untraceable since the crackdown against the insurgent outfit by the Royal Bhutan Army in 2003, while another member, Robin Handique, passed away. Only two members of the central committee, Mr. Barua and Jibon Moran, are at large, the Chief Minister added.
The government will seek the help of intellectuals and leading citizens, who recently organised a National Convention, which urged both the State and ULFA to sit for unconditional talks. Mr. Gogoi also thanked Gnanpith Award winner and popular writer Indira Goswami for her sustained efforts to facilitate talks between ULFA and the government.