Ending speculation about the whereabouts of the chairman of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), Arabinda Rajkhowa, the Centre said on Friday that he along with the outfit’s deputy military chief, Raju Baruah, were in the custody of the Assam Police in Guwahati.

Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told reporters here that no cases were pending against the family members of Rajkhowa, who were with him, and they were free. The ULFA leaders would have to face judicial process for cases pending against them, he said.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram has already indicated that the government was willing to hold dialogue with the ULFA if the separatist organisation abjured violence.

It was in 2006 that a citizens’ initiative last came forth to facilitate talks between the ULFA and the government; it could not move ahead as the banned outfit was insisting upon discussing only the issue of sovereignty.

While acknowledging the exemplary cooperation of Bangladesh, highly placed government sources expressed the hope that negotiations with the ULFA leadership would begin in a month or two.

“We are open for talks with the ULFA but there is no need for showing undue haste to kick-start the process,” the sources said. They pointed out that the peace process with Nagaland’s NSCN (I-M) group began in August 1997 and still remained inconclusive.

The sources said ULFA’s commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, believed to be in hiding somewhere in the Myanmar-China border, was the only one who was against holding talks with the government.

“Except Paresh Barua, all other top leaders of the ULFA are likely to come on board. If he comes, that is well and good but if he does not come, we are not going to wait for him,” the sources indicated.

Rajkhowa, 53, whose real name is Rajib Rajknowar, was among four persons who founded the separatist organisation on April 7, 1979. The ULFA’s self-styled ‘foreign secretary,’ Sasha Choudhury, and ‘finance secretary’ Chitraban Hazarika were arrested and handed over to the Indian authorities last month.

Rajkhowa, said to be heading the pro-talk faction in the ULFA, fled India about two decades ago and has been on the move in Myanmar, Thailand, Bhutan, Pakistan and other countries on assumed identity.

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