Centre says yes to freeing five top-rung ULFA leaders
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This decision was taken at a meeting between the government and the People's Consultative Group (PCG), constituted by ULFA to do the groundwork for the peace process.
The meeting was chaired by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil. National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and other officials of the home ministry also attended.
"They would be released at the earliest. The next round of talks will be directly with ULFA," home secretary V K Duggal said after the meeting in North Block, and admitted the possibility of a ceasefire with the banned organisation.
ULFA has insisted on five leaders — Bhim Kanta Buragohain, Pranati Deka, Pradip Gogoi, Ramu Mech, and Mithinga Daimary— being set free. They are members of ULFA's executive council and it will have to adopt a resolution to give the talks a go-ahead. They are in various Assam jails.
The Assam government has already conveyed its willingness to free the leaders and had sent a proposal to the home ministry soliciting its opinion.
The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is also keen to expedite efforts and ensure that these steps lead to a ceasefire. Talks will soon be initiated by the home ministry with the state government to work out details of freeing the activists.
As the talks progressed, the government delegation confronted the PCG with the recent bomb blasts since it created doubts if ULFA was actually interested in negotiations. The PCG on its part cited the peaceful assembly polls in the state as an example that the outfit was interested in talks.
The government also came up with a proposal to form a sub-committee to work out the modalities for the peace process but it was turned down by the PCG, which wants them to be framed after ULFA delegates sit in direct talks.
It was finally agreed that the PCG would appeal to ULFA to desist from violence and create an atmosphere conducive to a dialogue. There would also be "restraint on all sides" to prevent human rights violations.
Both sides were of the view that today's meeting was "constructive" that would contribute towards ensuring "lasting peace" in the disturbed state.
"I am very optimistic over the talks today. I am sure it will lead to more positive developments," Narayanan said after the first round of talks.
The Ulfa was formed on 9 April 1979 on the eve of the anti-foreigner agitation in Assam with the objective to carve out a sovereign independent state. It suffered a severe setback after being flushed out from Bhutan in 2003 but still has bases in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The five who will be free
Profiles of the ULFA leaders the government is releasing, all of whom face charges of waging war on the state:
Pradip Gogoi: In his mid-fifties, Gogoi has been vice-president of ULFA since 1981. He is from Sibsagar district, also home to ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa. A former electricity board employee, he's been in jail since his arrest in Kolkata in 1998. Faces six TADA cases.
Bhimkanta Buragohain: Also called 'Sir' or 'Mama', he will be 81 this October. ULFA'a political adviser. Moved with ULFA top brass in Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, where he was arrested by Bhutanese army in 2003 and handed over to India. Faces at least one TADA case.
Mithinga Daimary: Real name is Dipak Das. Writes poems under pen-name Megon Kachari. Hails from Nalbari. Age around 44 years. Has been central publicity secretary of ULFA since '92. Arrested by Bhutan army and handed over to India in 2003. Faces at least three murder cases.
Pranati Deka: Cultural secretary. Hails from Nalbari district. Wife of finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika. Was first arrested in Mumbai when Tata Tea Ltd arranged for her treatment in a hospital there in 1996. Later released on bail in 1998, but was arrested again at Phulbari in Meghalaya while trying to slip into Bangladesh in 2003. Faces two TADA cases, and one for passport violation.
Ramu Mech: A central executive member and a senior official of the ULFA's armed wing. Held rank of deputy C-in-C. Was arrested from a nursing home in Dibrugarh in October 2002. Faces murder case.
Major attacks in Assam in June
June 8: Four blasts across state that left 18 injured
June 9: Blast in Machkhowa Bazaar, Guwahati, five killed, 20 hurt; gas pipelines blown up in Dighalapathar, Renganibam; bridge blwon up in Bhadoi Panchali
June 10: Blast in CRPF office in Sibsagar, four jawans hurt; grenade blast in Bamunimaidam, Guwahati; crude pipelines blasted in Bordubi and Hapjan, and at oil well in Tengakhat; grenade blast kills one, injures 21 in Ganeshguri, Dispur; transformer blown up in Chapakhowa.
June 11: Blast on railway track at Borhat (Sibasgar); Kamrup express escapes narrowly;
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