ULFA-government peace talks – who’ll take the initiative? (News Analysis)

Guwahati, June 1 (Calcutta Tube) Initiating the peace process with the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is getting mired in a verbal duel with both the government and the rebel leadership demanding that the initiative should come from the other side.

At a time when both the ULFA and the government have openly expressed their desire for holding peace talks, the issue is getting bogged down once again with formalities coming in the way of opening the negotiations. The question is who is going to bell the cat?

‘Let the government first make a formal proposal for starting talks with us as we cannot do so as most of our leaders are in jail now,’ ULFA vice chairman Pradeep Gogoi told IANS.

This is in response to a statement made by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi Sunday when he asked the ULFA leadership to formally apprise the government about their willingness to hold peace talks.

The Assam cabinet last week decided to open talks with the ULFA leadership even if such negotiations were held minus their elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah.

Six top ULFA leaders are in jail and include chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka and ULFA political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.

ULFA publicity chief Mithinga Daimary and vice chairman Pradeep Gogoi were let out on bail two months ago after the prosecution did not oppose their bail plea – a move seen as an attempt by the government to let the two leaders drum up public opinion for opening talks.

The ULFA last week made a formal statement after a meeting between eight of their top leaders at the Guwahati Central Jail that talks could begin if six of their leaders were released from prison.

‘Let them tell us formally what they want to get the talk process going. Certain things require formalities and it is for the ULFA to make a formal proposal,’ the chief minister said.

The ‘you first’ attitude by both the government and the ULFA could well lead to mistrust between the two sides and, in the process, delay the opening of the peace talks.

There are vague statements coming in from both sides. On Tuesday jailed ULFA finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika said the government should create conducive atmosphere for talks.

Hazarika, however, parried a direct question as to what holds them back from making a formal proposal to the government expressing their willingness for talks and their preconditions like releasing the jailed leaders before any formal discussions.

Questions are asked as to why the two sides are dilly dallying – why cannot there be a meeting point on holding talks?

Further delay could only lead to confusion and give an edge to those not favouring talks within the ULFA.

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