The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ulfa dangles dialogue bait for Dispur

Guwahati, Nov. 27: A day after the Centre removed the tag of “banned organisation” from the NSCN (I-M), another outlawed outfit, the Ulfa, urged Delhi to withdraw the army from Assam and pave the way for a “political solution to the Indo-Assam conflict”.

A statement issued by Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa on the outfit’s annual “protest day” referred to the Tarun Gogoi ministry as a “puppet government” that had done nothing more than mastermind the so-called secret killings.

The Ulfa has been observing November 27 as “protest day” since in 1990, the year military operations against the outfit began. The first such offensive had been named Operation Bajrang.

In his four-page statement, faxed to newspaper offices, the Ulfa chairman said the Centre should discard its “policy of doublespeak” on crucial issues and give his outfit “due respect” if it wants to end insurgency in Assam. Accusing the armed forces of “intimidating” people to provide information on the movements of Ulfa members, he said the past 12 years of “army rule” were tortuous for the people of the state.

Rajkhowa denied reports that the Ulfa was a divided house. He said “concocted information” was being fed to a section of media by a section of bureaucrats.

The appeal for withdrawal of the army from Assam follows incarcerated Ulfa vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi’s statement that the outfit would agree to a political dialogue if the Centre and the state government declared a ceasefire. He offered to play mediator, subject to the Ulfa leadership’s approval.

Pradip Gogoi said the Ulfa would announce a truce if the Centre and the state government took the first step by declaring a unilateral ceasefire.

The outfit had said in its fortnightly mouthpiece, Freedom, that the dialogue between the NSCN (I-M) and the Centre was the “acid test of Indian sincerity”. It claimed to have the patience to wait for the “Indo-Naga conflict” to be resolved before starting a peace process in Assam.

The Ulfa said it had set certain conditions for talks to preclude “trickery” by the Centre. “These conditions are the consequences of Indian trickery in the past. The former 16-point Naga agreement, the Mizo accord and the Assam accord are the mirrors of our suspicion of Indian sincerity. So we set conditions for the good health of the much-awaited peace negotiations.”

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, however, lobbed the ball back into the Ulfa’s court, saying his government was ready to announce a ceasefire if the outfit promised to abjure violence.

The government’s circumspection stems from the Ulfa’s repeated rejection of all peace gestures. The outfit wants the proposed talks to address the issue of “Assam’s sovereignty”, a “third country” as the venue and the presence of UN observers.

Grenade attack

Five persons were today injured in a grenade attack by suspected militants near a toll bridge in Dhubri district.

IGP (special branch) Khagen Sarma said the incident took place around 7.30 pm. The identity of the group that carried out the attack was not known, he added.

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