The banned ULFA on Friday sought amendment in the Constitution for finding “meaningful” ways to protect the rights and identity of indigenous people of Assam.
To find an honourable solution to Assam’s three-decade-old insurgency problem, top ULFA leaders on Friday met Home Minister P. Chidambaram and presented the group’s ‘charter of demands’, setting the ball rolling for peace talks with the government.
“We demand Constitutional and political arrangements and reforms, including protection of the identity and material resources of indigenous population of Assam,” ‘Chairman’ Arabinda Rajkhowa said in the ‘charter of demands.’
The 40-minute meeting with Mr. Chidambaram was also attended by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, apart from six other top leaders of the group.
Later, addressing a press conference, ULFA’s ‘Foreign Secretary’ Shashadhar Choudhury said the government has to change rules and law as a solution is not possible under the provisions of the existing Constitution.
“Constitution has to be changed,” he said, flanked by outfit’s ‘Vice-Chairman’ Pradip Gogoi and ‘General Secretary’ Chitraban Hazarika.
Earlier, emerging from the meeting at North Block, the Chief Minister echoed a similar sentiment saying “If necessary, we may have to change law. But we must find a peaceful solution under the Constitution“.
Mr. Choudhury said due to continuous illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and other countries, indigenous people of the State have been reduced to minority and it was the responsibility of the Central government to protect their rights and identity through Constitutional safeguards.
Mr. Chidambaram told the ULFA leaders that the concerns expressed by them are of concern to the State and Union government and assured the team there is no “problem which cannot be solved within the framework of the Constitution.”
The ULFA leaders evaded a direct reply whether they have dropped their core demand ‘sovereignty’ and accept the Indian Constitution but said the group wants an honourable and meaningful solution only by a “fresh look at the issues of sovereignty so as to ensure that the people of Assam can assert their inalienable rights to control their lands and resources.”
Asked about group’s elusive ‘Commander-in-Chief’ Paresh Baruah’s opposition to any dialogue with the government if ’sovereignty’ issue is not on the table, Mr. Choudhury said.
“Baruah himself is yet to make any comment about the peace process. We hope that one day he will join in the talks,” he said adding that of late there has been no contact with Mr. Baruah and he is “probably” living in Myanmar now.
On the fate of ‘General Secretary’ Anup Chetia, who has been in detention in Bangladesh since 1997, Mr. Choudhury said, “the government of India officials told us that Chetia will be in India in soon, may be in weeks.”
He said the next round of talks will be held after August 15 at the Home Minister level.
The other demands of the ULFA include discussion on grounds for “ULFA’s struggle and their genuineness”, status report on missing ULFA leaders and cadres — numbering around 50 — including those have been missing since 2005 when the Bhutan government conducted an offensive against the group and other socio-economic issues.
This will be ULFA’s first formal peace negotiation with the government in its 32-year-old history. So far, only preliminary talks between the ULFA and Centre’s interlocutor P.C. Haldar have been held in Guwahati.