Govt holds talks with ULFA leaders

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New Delhi, Feb 10 (PTI) Breaking new grounds,Government today held for the first time unconditional talkswith leaders of banned outfit ULFA and said it was "confident"of finding a "just and honourable solution" to the over threedecade-old insurgency problem in Assam.

"As you are aware that they (ULFA) have offeredunconditional talks with Government of India and Government ofAssam to find out a honurable and just solution to the issuesraised by them.

"I welcome them. I assured them that the Government ofIndia and Government of Assam will engage them in sincere andmeaningful talks and I am confident that we will find a justand honourable solution," Home Minister P Chidambaram saidafter ULFA leaders led by their ''chairman'' Arabinda Rajkhowamet him before entering into talks here.

"They called on me which is a courtesy call... Theseare very preliminary stages (of talks), you (media) shouldcooperate and they will feel confident which will help to finda solution through talks, he said.

An eight-member ULFA delegation led by Rajkhowa wentinto a full session with senior officials led by HomeSecretary G K Pillai for about an hour.

This is the first time that such unconditional talksare being held in ULFA''s 31-year-old history.

The meeting was also attended by Assam HomeSecretary N K Das, Additional Director General Police (Assam)Khagen Sharma, Assam Home Commissioner Jishnu Barua, Centre''sinterlocutor P C Haldar, Secretary (Internal Security) U KBansal and Intelligence Bureau chief N Sandhu.

On February 5, the ULFA announced that it will sit forunconditional talks with the Centre "respecting the wishes ofthe people of Assam". It also apologised for the violent actsit committed.

Apart from Rajkhowa, ''vice-chairman'' Pradip Gogoi,''political advisor'' Bhimakanta Buragohain, ''foreign secretary''Sasha Choudhury, ''finance secretary'' Chitrabon Hazarika,''cultural secretary'' Pranati Deka, ''publicity secretary''Mithinga Daimary and ''deputy commander-in-chief'' Raju Baruaparticipated in the talks.

The ULFA delegation arrived here last evening and werewhisked away by security personnel to an undiscloseddestination.

Before leaving for the national capital, the ULFAleaders had met Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and soughthis cooperation to take forward the peace process with theCentre.

"I hope talks with the Centre is successful and theydiscussed with me how to take the peace process forward",Gogoi had said.

Rajkhowa said the modalities for the talks have notbeen worked out so far and will come later.

The ULFA leaders released from jail recently havedecided to hold unconditional talks with the government butthe faction led by the group''s ''commander-in-chief'' PareshBarua is opposed to it.

The ULFA delegation is also likely to meet PrimeMinister Manmohan Singh on February 13 after his return fromKerala.

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