Discuss ULFA’s sovereignty demand, say peace pushers

By Xinhua

Guwahati : Members of a peace panel appointed by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), one of northeastern India’s frontline separatist groups, said Wednesday that the government should be prepared to discuss their ‘core demand’ of sovereignty to restore peace in the region.

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“I see no harm in the government listening to the ULFA’s arguments in favour of its demand for sovereignty. Our constitution has been amended several times and it is flexible,” said Indira Goswami, a well known Assamese writer who has been acting as a peace facilitator since 2005.

“The issue of whether or not to consider the ULFA’s core demand will come later, but the government should be prepared to hear the ULFA out by getting the peace talks rolling by creating a desired atmosphere,” Goswami, who has been facilitating the talks between the ULFA-appointed People’s Consultative Group (PCG) and the centre, told IANS.

Goswami’s response came a day after Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi categorically said the government could not have any discussion with the ULFA on its sovereignty demand.

“We want the ULFA issue to be solved politically through negotiations and want their leaders to come for talks. But there is no question of discussing the sovereignty issue as that is non-negotiable,” Gogoi told journalists on Tuesday.

The issue of possible peace talks between the ULFA and the government came to the fore again last week with Goswami indicating that New Delhi could concede one of the ULFA’s demands, that of setting free five of its detained leaders, to enable the group to decide on the question of talks with the government.

Goswami had quoted senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily, the party’s general secretary in charge of Assam, as saying New Delhi could actually take a decision on the release of the five ULFA leaders by Jan 3.

However, the ULFA was quick to come out with a statement saying talks could be possible provided New Delhi was prepared to discuss, among other things, its main demand of sovereignty.

“Chief Minister Gogoi’s statement ruling out any discussion on the ULFA’s key demand is bound to create a hurdle to the resumption of peace talks with the rebel group,” Dilip Patgiri, a member of the PCG, said.

His views were echoed by Lachit Bordoloi, also a member of the PCG.

“Such adamant attitude as the one demonstrated by Gogoi cannot be expected to help bring the peace process back on rails,” Bordoloi said.

The PCG was set up by the ULFA in September 2005 to prepare the ground for possible direct talks between the rebel group and the government. The ULFA picked nine members and approved two others, Goswami and Rebati Phukan, a sports organiser, to act as facilitators.

The PCG held three rounds of exploratory talks with the central government leaders, one meeting being attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, but the effort collapsed in September 2006 over conditions and counter-conditions put up by both sides.

While the ULFA insisted on the release of five senior leaders from jail to enable them to meet and decide on the course of the peace talks, New Delhi stuck to its demand that the rebel group give it a written assurance that it was indeed interested in entering into peace negotiations with the government.