Ulfa deposits 57 weapons with Centre ahead of peace talks

GUWAHATI: The Centre has finally managed to convince the pro-talks Ulfa led by Arabinda Rajkhowa to deposit its weapons ahead of the peace negotiations scheduled for October 25. However, the faction has deposited just 57 assorted weapons, a number believed to be far smaller than the outfit's actual arsenal. A suspension of operations agreement was signed by the Centre on September 3.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi said, "Initially, there was some objection from Ulfa leaders to depositing the weapons, but the government has convinced them to do so. It is a uniform policy followed with all outfits that before talks start they should deposit their weapons, stay in designated camps and not resort to any extortion."

Gogoi said the first round of talks between Ulfa and the Centre since the tripartite ceasefire agreement was signed last month will be held in New Delhi on October 25. A memorandum of settlement would also be signed with the United People's Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), another militant outfit of the state, on October 24 in New Delhi, the chief minister informed.

He added, "However, there are forces like the Maoists, ISI and anti-talk groups who are trying to derail the peace process that we are carrying out with militant groups. They know that once the process is completed, the state will make development in leaps and bounds."

Giving details of the deposit of weapons with the Centre, state home secretary G D Tripathi told TOI, "They have so far deposited 57 weapons but they might still have some weapons with them. We will be getting the rest of the arms as well."

The senior home department official added that the 57 deposited weapons are currently stored in the house of a pro-talks Ulfa leader, but are under the joint custody of the local police and the Ulfa leader. "They are under a double-lock safe custody, with keys to one lock with the local police officer and the other with the Ulfa leader. Very soon, we will be shifting these weapons to the camps where the Ulfa cadres will be staying while the peace talks proceed," Tripathi said.

The pro-talk Ulfa cadres will have to stay in designated camps, which they want to be named as Assam Naba Nirman Kendra. The home secretary said, "There will be nine such camps in the state and the camp at Goalpara is ready to be handed over to the cadres. When the cadres of that area move into the camp, we can shift the deposited weapons there."

The Ulfa faction had so far been refusing to deposit their weapons like other outfits that are holding peace talks with the government. The Ulfa leadership was demanding an "honourable" walk-in into the discussion without depositing weapons, but the Centre finally convinced the outfit to agree to its demand.

The home secretary said the Rajkhowa faction has also submitted a list of the cadres of the pro-talks Ulfa, who number 297.