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Bodo deal sinks in last lap of talks

New Delhi, Jan. 20: An expected Bodo agreement stumbled in the last stretch before breasting the tape, compelling the Centre to merely extend the ceasefire between the security forces and Bodo militants for a month from tonight.

The ceasefire, which had held the fragile peace in the Bodo region, was scheduled to expire tonight.

Expectations were high that an agreement would be wrapped up at the end of today’s tripartite negotiations between the Assam government, the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) and Union home ministry officials. Even a memorandum of understanding (MoU) had been prepared and was ready for release.

Home ministry officials were hoping that deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani would be able to announce the Bodo accord before his departure tonight for Paris and Qatar. Journalists were told there could be a major announcement from the deputy Prime Minister. But after two rounds of discussions, it became clear that the agreement had come unstuck.

An unexpected snag came up when the BLT team wanted a modification to the Assam government’s proposal regarding elections to the proposed 40-member Bodoland Territorial Council. The original proposal was to keep 30 of the 40 seats reserved for tribals in the council and 10 others kept aside for the large population of non-tribals living in Bodo territory.

The BLT now wants 25 of the seats exclusively for tribals, instead of 30. It also wants 10 of the seats to be kept in the general category, allowing both tribals and non-tribals to contest, while conceding that five could be reserved for non-tribals. The Assam government officials rejected the modified plan suggested by the Bodo team.

At today’s meeting, the state government agreed to hand over 12 of the 93 disputed villages to the Bodoland Territorial Council. The total number of villages ceded by Assam is roughly 3,072. These areas are those where tribals outnumber non-tribals.

But Assam wants a survey to be conducted in the rest of the disputed areas. Dispur is willing to concede these villages if the tribal population is above 50 per cent. A three-member team will complete the task within three months.

By setting the deadline for cessation of hostilities on February 21, the Union home ministry has given notice to both the Assam government and the BLT that they should resolve all outstanding differences within a month and wrap up a peace deal which North Block wants sealed by the end of the year.

The Assam minister for plains tribals, Bharat Narah, was hopeful that the two sides would reach a solution within the next month.

“There is nothing we can’t solve through talks. The differences over the villages have more or less been resolved. We just need some time to work this out.”

Chances of an accord being reached by next month, however, appear distant at the moment.

The offer by the state government to hand over only 12 of the 93 disputed villages to the proposed council follows an unsuccessful attempt earlier this month to evolve a consensus.

On January 10, an all-party meeting failed to decide on the number of additional villages to be included in the council with the Opposition lobbing the ball back into government court.

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