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Firing cloud on peace talks
- Assam backlash toll rises to 10

Feb. 11: The team of negotiators chosen by the banned Ulfa today threatened to pull out of the peace process with Delhi in the aftermath of yesterday’s police firing on civilians at Kakopathar in Assam’s Tinsukia district, where the toll rose to 10 today.

The People’s Consultative Group (PCG) constituted by the Ulfa warned that it would abandon the talks if army operations in Assam did not stop immediately.

The army staged a flag march at several places in Tinsukia, but the situation remained tense in areas placed under indefinite curfew since yesterday.

The district administration extended the curfew to areas under Doomdooma police station this morning after it had been clamped in Kakopathar, Pengeri and Makum police stations of the district last night.

PCG spokesman Arup Borbora pointed out that the police firing on civilians at Kakopathar was against “the undertaking given by the government of India on February 7 at New Delhi to initiate confidence-building measures”.

“In view of such actions, the PCG cautions the state as well as the central governments to immediately stop army operations in the state or else the PCG will be compelled to withdraw itself from the ongoing discussions,” the PCG member added. Another member of the group, Diganta Konwar, visited Kakopathar today.

As the Tarun Gogoi government faced one of its worst crises ahead of the Assembly elections, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi ' currently in Assam ' expressed regret over the killing of innocent civilians. She announced that “the guilty will not be spared” while referring to the death of Ajit Mahanta in army custody, which triggered the uprising.

Addressing an election rally at Tezpur, Sonia said she has spoken to defence minister Pranab Mukherjee. “We feel both sad and sorry. But at the same time, we want stern action against those responsible for these. The defence minister has assured me that appropriate action will be taken,” she said, referring to the actions of the security personnel.

Government spokesman and minister Ripun Borah blamed yesterday’s incidents on some “vested and lumpen elements” among the protesters, who were otherwise peaceful. “These people wanted to embarrass the ruling Congress before the Assembly elections,” he claimed.

National security adviser M.K. Narayanan also said the situation at Kakopathar was being “strictly monitored” by the Prime Minister’s Office. Narayanan conveyed this to writer Mamoni Raisom Goswami, who is mediating between the Ulfa and the Centre, when she spoke to him in Delhi.

Though no fresh incident occurred at Kakopathar today, violence erupted at nearby Chabua town when a mob tried to set ablaze a bus during a daylong bandh.

Two CRPF jawans and an Assam policeman were injured when stones were thrown, forcing the securitymen to fire in the air.

Director-general of police (DGP) D.N. Dutt, who led a team of senior police officials to the site for a stock-taking exercise, defended the police action. He said they fired only after a section of the protesters had attacked security personnel with sharp weapons.

“A dozen of our men sustained injuries. The mob also set ablaze the escort vehicle of the Tinsukia deputy commissioner,” he said.

Of the 10 killed, seven had been identified till the time of filing of this report. They were Dipon Moran, 21, Golap Bailung, 70, Waheeda Ahmed, 30, Umesh Ojha, 39, 35-year-old CRPF havildar Madhurjya Gohain, Mandira Gohain, 13, and Anindina Munda, 16.

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