ULFA leaders will be given safe passage if they lay down arms

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Geneva, Nov.21 (ANI): United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leaders and cadres will be given safe passage and a chance to return to mainstream society only if they give up the path of violence and unconditionally lay down their arms, sources here have said.

They said that though the ULFA and some other north eastern rebel groups are banned, the Centre is ready for resumption of unconditional talks with them if they abjure violence and insurgent activity.

"They must give up the path of terror. Some of these people are in Bangladesh, and if they are willing to come to India to hold talks, the Centre will talk to them," the sources said.

"There is, however, a minor complication in this. ULFA is a banned group, so, the question is will the Centre lift the ban to facilitate overt talks with these outfits, which have not taken place till today," they added.

With two recently arrested ULFA leaders expressing their readiness for peace talks, speculation is rife that the outfit may go the NDFB route soon.

It may be recalled that the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) had signed a ceasefire agreement with the Centre and the state government in May 2005, leaving its chairman, Ranjan Daimary, out of the talks.

Security think tanks are of the opinion that the ULFA may also consider initiating similar peace negotiations without their elusive "commander-in-chief", Paresh Baruah, said one daily.

There is also a hint that ULFA Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, who is reportedly under surveillance in Bangladesh, would take the peace route sooner than later.

The mood in security and intelligence agencies is upbeat following the arrest of ULFA "foreign secretary" Sashadhar Choudhury and "finance secretary" Chitrabon Hazarika, both members of its powerful central executive committee.

A couple of years before NDFB sat down for talks with the Centre, almost all its top leaders, excluding Ranjan Daimary, had been arrested. They were then released and the organization was reorganised with a new chairman to head the talks.

Daimary now heads a faction of NDFB that continues fight for a sovereign Bodo state.

ULFA is passing through a similar phase, with most of its 15 central executive committee members in jail. One of them, Robin Handique, died of illness while he was in judicial custody in Tezpur. Ramu Mech, another member, is on parole trying to recover from illness. Two others-Ashanta Baghphukan and Robin Neog - have been declared missing since 2003 when Bhutan flushed out Indian rebels from its soil.

Only Rajkhowa, Baruah, former "deputy c-in-c" Raju Baruah and another key member, Jibon Moran are to be caught.

"If it (peace talks) could start without Ranjan Daimary in the case of NDFB, why not the same for ULFA," a top state policymaker on security issues quipped.

"It is only a matter of weeks before Choudhury and Hazarika join their colleagues inside the Guwahati jail," he added.

Choudhury and Hazarika have both been persistent with their statements favouring talks with the government, provided Rajkhowa gives his consent, before interrogators as well as the media.

Rajkhowa, on the other hand, had issued a statement a few days ago that he would make his stand clear on the peace initiative soon. By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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