Ulfa leaders return home with high hopes

GUWAHATI: Ulfa central executive committee members, who returned to the city on Tuesday after holding "familiarisation" meetings with PM Manmohan Singh and home minister P Chidambaram in New Delhi, said it's now the Centre's turn to reciprocate and fulfill its pledge of giving an "honourable solution" to the decades-long insurgency in Assam.

Without making any reference to the word "sovereignty", Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, who had led the team, said, "On May 25, 2005, the Prime Minister had written a letter to Ulfa that the government was ready to discuss all core issues it. Based on this letter of assurance, the outfit decided to sit for a peaceful political dialogue. We hope that the leadership of the world's greatest democracy will not just keep its assurance on paper and discussion but also make it a reality." The Union ministry of home affairs invited the Ulfa leadership to New Delhi for introductory meetings after the latter dropped the main pre-condition of discussions only on "sovereignty" and agreed for unconditional talks.

On arrival at the Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in the afternoon, Rajkhowa said the team has come back with a lot of assurances and hope. He said, "The home minister has assured us of making all efforts to find an honourable solution which will be acceptable to the people of the state." Describing the meetings with Singh and Chidambaram as "highly satisfactory and cordial," Rajkhowa appealed to political parties to refrain from taking political mileage out of the peace process that has just started.

"We appeal to all political parties to unite on our agenda for dialogue. They should play a constructive rather than politicizing the issue," added the Ulfa chairman.

The outfit will soon submit its charter of demands, which is being drafted by the Sanmilita Jatiya Abhibartan (SJA), a citizens' group. The SJA, however, is of the opinion that Ulfa's sovereignty demand is not feasible. It wants the Ulfa leadership to bargain for more autonomy instead when the formal talks start. Rajkhowa heaped praises on Manmohan Singh saying that the Prime Minister has thanked Ulfa for agreeing to hold peaceful political dialogue with the government. Rajkhowa, however, declined to reply if "commander-in-chief" Paresh Baruah's rejection of the proposed peace talks was ever discussed at the introductory meetings.