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Karbi outfit sets terms for talks

Rongbin (Somewhere in the jungles of Karbi Anglong), Dec. 8: The hardline faction of the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), the dominant militant outfit of Assam’s Karbi Anglong district, has asked for modifications in the Constitution in a list of four conditions for a dialogue with the Centre.

The general secretary of the UPDS, H.E. Kathar, told a group of visiting newspersons at its “central militia commission” that his group would hold talks with the Centre only if all four conditions were met.

The UPDS, whose base extends to the adjacent North Cachar Hills, had split recently. The faction led by Herensing Bey agreed to a ceasefire with the Centre, but Kathar’s outfit has stuck to its guns. Both factions profess to be fighting for hemprek kangthim, or the “Karbis’ right to self-rule”.

Kathar said his organisation was not opposed to talks, as had the media had made it out to be. He said the UPDS would readily sit for talks if the Centre brought about a “drastic transformation of the Indian Constitution to fulfil the aspirations of the indigenous people”.

The militant leader, whose outfit observed its 4th “martyrs’ day” on Friday, said the agenda for the talks should focus on hemprek kangthim (self-rule) for the Karbi and Dimasa communities. “We are not for secession from India. What we want is a federal state by limiting the federal powers to a handful of subjects like defence, external affairs, communication, currency and some residuary powers.”

The UPDS hardliner said the Centre should stop looking for an answer to the Karbi and Dimasas’ demand for autonomy within the ambit of the Sixth Schedule. “The Union government should instead grant maximum autonomy. We want the government to spell out its position on these vital issues prior to any negotiation, as we have seen the outcome of unconditional discussions other organisations have opted for.”

Citing an instance of aspirations half-fulfilled, Kathar said the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) had started a dialogue with the Centre for a separate state, only to be given a territorial council.

The UPDS leader asked the Centre call a halt to all military operations against his outfit and invite Amnesty International to investigate all “extra judicial killings by security forces and other agencies”. He claimed that hundreds of innocents, including family members of UPDS leaders, had been killed since the outfit was formed in 1999.

On the spate of attacks on non-tribals in Karbi Anglong, Kathar said his outfit was involved in none of these.

Outfit chairman P. Dilli criticised the Bey faction for “compromising a true cause” by agreeing to a truce and unconditional talks with the Centre.

Dilli’s statement was read out by the “finance secretary” of the outfit, B. Lekhte.

Since the split in the UPDS, the hardline faction has been referring to itself as the Karbi Anglong-N.C. Hills People’s Resistance. However, the nomenclature remains an “unofficial” one.

The martyrs’ day programme of the outfit included a cultural function by Karbi villagers and a gun salute by the “UPDS army”.

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