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ULFA chairman holds first round of peace talks


Guwahati : The first round of peace talks between Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), and the central government’s interlocutor P.C. Haldar was held Thursday, with the rebels agreeing to open unconditional negotiations soon.

“It was a very positive beginning. The ULFA chairman expressed the group’s willingness for unconditional peace talks,” Haldar told journalists after the meeting.

This was the first meeting after Arabinda Rajkhowa was released on bail from the Guwahati Central Jail Saturday.

The meeting was attended by Rajkhowa and deputy commander-in-chief of ULFA Raju Baruah.

Baruah was released on bail last month – a strategy by the government to facilitate the release of all top jailed leaders to pave the way for formal peace talks.

Already six top ULFA leaders, including Rajkhowa, have been released. Only two leaders are still in jail – self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury and finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika.

The duo have applied for bail and are expected to be released soon.

“This is the first meeting after my release from jail and we discussed how to begin formal peace talks and other modalities,” the ULFA chairman said.

The ULFA had formally sought New Delhi’s help in extraditing the outfit’s general secretary Anup Chetia from Bangladesh. Chetia was arrested in 1997 and is jailed in Bangladesh.

“Yes, they want the good offices of the central government to be used in getting back Anup Chetia,” Haldar said.

“We are optimistic and hope to see a mutually acceptable political settlement to the problem,” the ULFA leader said.

The only stumbling block to the peace process is the rather uncertain and tentative response by the elusive ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, believed to be hiding somewhere along the Myanmar-China border.

“It is not about holding talks with Rajkhowa or Paresh Baruah. For us we are holding talks with the ULFA, not with individuals,” Haldar said, when he was asked if Paresh Baruah’s absence could hinder peace talks.