22 Jun 2006 12:22:27 GMT, Source: Reuters
(Recasts with joint statement)
NEW DELHI, June 22 (Reuters) – India said on Thursday it would consider releasing five jailed leaders of a powerful rebel group in the troubled northeastern state of Assam to pave the way for a ceasefire. The announcement came after talks between representatives of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which is fighting for an independent Assam state since 1979, and Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil and senior security officials.
A joint statement after the talks asked the rebels to create "a peaceful and conducive environment so that direct talks with the government are held at the earliest".
The ULFA was represented at Thursday's talks by members of the so-called People's Consultative Group which includes human rights activists, writers, lawyers and journalists.
"The next round of talks will be held directly with the ULFA," Home Secretary Vinod Kumar Duggal told reporters.
Thousands of people have been killed in the insurgency in oil, tea and timber-rich Assam. The ULFA says New Delhi neglects Assam by taking away its rich resources.
The New Delhi talks came as senior Indian officials began negotiations with leaders of another northeastern separatist group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah) or NSCN (I-M), at The Hague, the group's spokesman told Reuters.
The NSCN has been fighting for decades for independence of Naga tribespeople living in the region.
Security agencies have opposed releasing the ULFA rebels, especially after a series of bombings and grenade attacks across Assam this month which killed 10 people and left scores wounded.
The ULFA has denied any role in the attacks. (Additional reporting by Biswajyoti Das in GUWAHATI)