Keep door open for talks

Activists take part in a protest against the killing of innocent people in Tinsukia district by suspected United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) terrorists at Kherbari Bisonibari in Tinsukia district. PTI

The statement of Paresh Baruah, ‘commander-in-chief’ of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent), that the organisation is not averse to talks with the Indian government has received attention. The ULFA(I) has not joined the talks which have been held with the pro-talks faction of the organisation led by its chairman Arabinda Rajakhowa. The extremist faction is considered to be operating from bases outside the country. There have been calls, especially from some leaders of the pro-talks faction, to involve the ULFA(I) leadership also in the talks. The talks are thought to be at an advanced stage though no details of any agreement, if it has been reached, have been made public. Any agreement signed with only one faction may not bring lasting peace. The ULFA(I) still has some following and support in the state. 

The ULFA(I) leader’s statement is not an offer, but an indication that he may not be against talks. It is conditional too. Baruah has said that the outfit would talk with the government only if the sovereignty of Assam is discussed. This has been the ULFA(I)’s position in the past also but it may be noted that two other demands are not mentioned now. These are that the talks should be held in another country and should be under the supervision of the UN. The country cannot accept the first demand also as a condition for talks. But talks have been held with other militant and separatist organisations in the past after communications through informal channels helped to soften their hard positions. Naga militant groups toned down their positions over a period of time to start a peace process. There may be groups and individuals who will be ready to do mediation to facilitate talks. 

The activities of the ULFA(I) have seen a spurt in recent times. There have been incidents of violence, abductions and killings which are suspected to have been committed by the militants. It also co-ordinates its actions with other insurgent outfits. The outfit has safe havens in neighbouring states like Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. The cadres go back to the hideouts after staging attacks in Assam. Paresh Baruah has said that the number of youths joining the outfit has increased after the Central government proposed to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) bill which proposes to make non-Muslim migrants eligible for citizenship. There is widespread opposition to the bill in Assam. The Assam police and the army are reported to be planning to launch an offensive against the ULFA(I). But the door for talks should be kept open. 

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Keep door open for talks

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