Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Saturday said that his government might grant safe passage, if there is no legal hurdle, to the 20 United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leaders and cadres who have deserted their camps in Bangladesh and to other leaders and cadres who are willing to do the same. He, however, said that the only information which the government has is that the ULFA cadres had deserted their camps in Bangladesh.

“We can just tell you that they have left their camps in Bangladesh. They have not been handed over to us by the Border Security Force (BSF),” Mr. Gogoi said.

He was speaking to journalists for the first time since returning from Mumbai where he had undergone three heart surgeries.

‘A good sign'

Mr. Gogoi said that the desertion by ULFA cadres on their own was a good sign, and has raised hopes for peace talks with the militant outfit.

Official sources said that the ULFA cadres have not been arrested and that the Assam Police will not arrest them as they have left the outfit on their own.

“They have not been arrested by Bangladesh Rifles. Neither have they surrendered before the Border Security Force.

The Assam Police has not arrested them and will not arrest them. It is major development as the ULFA's last bastion in Bangladesh has fallen without the knowledge of Paresh Barua. They include operational commanders and the outfit spokesman. Let's hope that they will join the peace process and will come overground in appropriate time” said a top ranking intelligence official, on promise of anonymity.

Mr. Gogoi said that the desertion by ULFA cadres also reflects that most of the outfit's ranks and files are disillusioned with the armed struggle.

He said that P.C. Haldar, the Centre's interlocutor for advancing talks with the ULFA, , will soon visit the State to start the talks with the outfit.

In a related development, the elusive self-styled Commander-in-Chief of the ULFA, Paresh Barua, in a statement issued through e-mail on Friday said that his second lieutenant, Arunodoi Dohotia, has been appointed as the new spokesman of the ULFA in wake Central Publicity Wing member Anu Buragohain leaving the camp, along with several other senior cadres.

Mr. Gogoi, however, said that Paresh Barua's statement reflected his “frustration.”