//Govt, Ulfa agree to maintain peace

Govt, Ulfa agree to maintain peace

New Delhi: The Indian government yesterday said it would put in place a series of confidence-building measures, including the possible release of detained rebel leaders, to boost the peace process with the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa)

During talks between an 11-member People’s Consultative Group (PCG) nominated by Ulfa and top government officials led by National Security Advisor M K Narayanan, the two sides agreed that maintaining a "peaceful atmosphere" was a pre-requisite for further talks.

 Emerging from the two-hour-long talks, Home Secretary V K Duggal said the government would hold another round of talks with the PCG "as early as possible before the commencement of talks with the Ulfa". Duggal and Arup Borbora, a spokesman for the PCG, refused to answer pointed questions from journalists as to whether the talks had focussed on Ulfa’s demand for halting military operations against its cadres in Assam.

This was the second round of dialogue between the government and the PCG, which includes prominent journalists, a yesteryear footballer, human rights activists, an engineer, a lawyer and a doctor. Describing the talks as "frank, constructive and positive", a joint statement said: "The government of India has agreed to examine and initiate a series of confidence-building measures with regard to instances of human rights violations and to examine the issue of release of certain detainees in consultation with the state (Assam) government."

Though the statement did not give details about the detainees, the Ulfa has for long been demanding the release of 10 of its top leaders held in jails in India, Bangladesh and Bhutan. The statement said: "Both sides agreed that the maintenance of a peaceful atmosphere in the state to create a conducive environment for a dialogue is a pre-requisite and agreed to work towards creating such an environment."

The government has been insisting that Ulfa, which has been fighting since 1979 for an independent homeland in Assam, should give up violence before joining peace parleys. A string of bomb attacks in Assam in the run up to Republic Day January 26 – which left four people dead and destroyed several oil pipelines – was blamed on the Ulfa.

PCG spokesman Borbora said: "We discussed a whole gamut of issues and things proceeded on a positive note. "We made several suggestions as it is the job of the PCG to facilitate a political dialogue. There was consensus on certain issues and there is a need for further talks." Earlier yesterday Borbora had urged the government to stop military operations in Assam and to release Ulfa cadres currently in jail. Addressing reporters before the talks, he said: "There have been operations going on, there have been killings of the Ulfa leaders without any provocation and these things could have been avoided. Once there is violence, it leads to counter violence."

The Ulfa is one of the most organised rebel groups in the northeast, where more than 30 militant outfits operate with demands ranging from independence to greater autonomy.