Hold talks

The peace process in Assam involving the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants has made notable progress with the signing of an agreement for suspension of operations between the pro-talks faction of the outfit and the Central and state governments.

An unofficial ceasefire was in force and the formal agreement now should pave the way for talks on substantive issues. The ULFA has traversed a long way from its violent heydays and it is a much weakened and fractious outfit now. Its top leaders, except the ‘commander-in-chief’’ Paresh Barua, have been captured.

Ever since ‘chairman’ Arabinda Rajkhowa’s arrest, the militants have been amenable to talks and have dropped some of their most unacceptable demands like a discussion on sovereignty. This is the right time to build on the gains when the government holds an upper hand and reach an acceptable solution to end the three-decades-old militancy in the state.

It must be ensured that the terms of the agreement are not violated by both sides. In the past such agreements have come to naught because one side violated it and the other responded in kind to the violations. It has been decided that the militant cadres will stay in special camps set up by the government.

The government must ensure that these are provided because the militants will otherwise be tempted to resort to violence and extortion. Their security should also be the responsibility of the government. The ULFA has refused to surrender their arms but it has been agreed that whatever arms left with the militants would be kept in a mutually agreed system of safety.

The substantive round of talks should start without delay. In the past delay in the submission of demands by the militants or their vagueness and unacceptability have been stumbling blocks in talks. But this time the pro-talks faction has already submitted its charter of demands to the government and they can be a basis for negotiations.

Efforts to involve the hard line faction in the talks should continue. ULFA ‘general secretary’ Anup Chetia is in protective custody in Bangladesh. It may not be difficult to persuade the Bangladesh government to hand him over to India. If the talks make progress, more members of the hard line faction might come to support the peace process.

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