Govt talks to ULFA after two decades

"I met the ULFA leaders this (Friday) morning in the jail. This was my first meeting with them and it was some sort of an icebreaker," the central government's newly appointed peace interlocutor PC Haldar said.

The hour-long meeting took place at the Guwahati Central Jail with the ULFA led by its jailed chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa.

The other ULFA leaders who attended the meeting include self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka, and political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.

"The meeting was good and constructive, I would say," Haldar said.

Barring ULFA's commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, who is in Bangladesh, the entire ULFA top brass is in prison.

The first direct talks with the ULFA took place Jan 11, 1992, in New Delhi with late prime minister P V  Narasimha Rao. ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia, now in jail in Bangladesh, former publicity chief Sunil Nath, and three more rebel leaders, had been airlifted then from Guwahati for the meeting with the prime minister.

But Anup Chetia later jumped parole and went underground and the meeting broke down. Chetia fled on the plea that he would have to go to the jungles to convince the other ULFA leaders for peace talks.

"That time we were ready for talks, but really did not know what led to the breakdown," Sunil Nath said.

"I think the meeting between the ULFA leaders and the government emissary was very positive."

Nath, who had surrendered a few months after the first round of talks in 1992, is now a regular columnist in local newspapers.

Haldar also met leaders of the newly floated Citizens Forum, a group of civil society members brokering peace between the ULFA and the government.

"We are hopeful of something positive emerging out this meeting between the interlocutor and the ULFA leaders," Nirmal Choudhury, spokesperson of the Forum, said.

The ULFA is fighting for an independent homeland for the Assamese people since 1979 with the insurgency claiming more than 10,000 lives in the past two decades.

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