The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PMO vacates Ulfa talks slot

Guwahati, June 4: In a major policy shift in the ongoing peace process with the banned Ulfa, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has decided to “completely” pull itself out of the negotiations.

A highly placed source in Dispur said the onus was now on the Union home ministry to carry forward the peace process. The decision was ostensibly taken to avoid any “overlapping”.

National security adviser M.K. Narayanan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s pointsman, had been leading the negotiations with the People’s Consultative Group (PCG) constituted by the banned outfit to prepare the ground for a direct dialogue between its leadership and Delhi. The first round of talks was held on October 26.

Narayanan led the discussions in the second round with the PCG on February 7 as well, though the home ministry was involved this time.

The source said Narayanan was unlikely to participate in the third round of talks, the date for which is likely to be fixed soon.

Delhi has cited two reasons for the policy shift. “If the process is handled by the home ministry alone, it will put peace parleys on the fast track as it is difficult for Narayanan to be frequently present at the meetings,” an official said.

The Centre has also pointed out that there is the possibility of overlapping if both Narayanan and the home ministry simultaneously handle the negotiations.

Confirming this development, the chief facilitator of the peace process, New Delhi-based writer Mamoni Raisom Goswami, said the Centre conveyed its decision to her recently. She, however, appealed to Narayanan to stay involved in the process.

“Narayanan and home secretary V.K. Duggal told me about the decision to shift the peace process from the PMO to the home ministry. But I requested Narayanan to stay back because he knows the problem better. He has been handling it from the very beginning,” Goswami told The Telegraph over phone from the capital.

The award-winning writer said Union home minister Shivraj Patil was likely to attend the next round of talks.

The PCG is meeting tomorrow to review the peace process against the backdrop of the current situation.

A member of the group, Rebati Phukan, will leave for New Delhi after the meeting to convey to Goswami the outcome of the review. Based on this, she will work out a date for the next round of talks.

Delhi is understood to have reacted “positively” to Dispur’s recommendation for the release of some incarcerated militant leaders and could announce its decision when talks with the PCG resume.

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