The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indisposed Gogoi backs out of talks

Guwahati, June 20: Battling a health problem ever since he returned from an overseas trip, chief minister Tarun Gogoi has excused himself from the third round of talks between Delhi and the Ulfa-constituted People’s Consultative Group (PCG) on Thursday.

The run-up to the crucial round of talks has been stormy, with Dispur urging Delhi to make it clear to the PCG that talks and violence cannot go hand-in-hand. On the other hand, the banned Ulfa has not only denied any involvement in the recent orgy of violence but also accused some police officials of trying to derail the peace process.

Barring writer Mamoni Raisom Goswami and Mukul Mahanta, all the PCG members called on the chief minister at his hilltop residence. The meeting lasted around 30 minutes.

Lachit Bordoloi and Hiranya Saikia, two of the Ulfa-appointed mediators, said the meeting was held in a very cordial atmosphere and that Gogoi assured the PCG of all help to take the peace process forward.

“He will not be able to make it to the meeting because of a health problem. But he appeared very positive (about the talks,” Saikia said.

The chief minister’s office confirmed the development, saying Gogoi had been “feeling weak” since returning to India from an overseas tour on June 12. He arrived in Guwahati from New Delhi yesterday.

An aide said the chief minister, though still recuperating, went to his office today and “cleared a lot of files”.

Later in the day, his interaction with the PCG ostensibly made the mediators upbeat about the prospect of the third round of talks. Bordoloi said he was “very optimistic” about the outcome of the talks. “We are all hopeful (of a breakthrough). The CM has wished us well. We will be leaving by the Jet Airways flight at 4 pm tomorrow. Mamoni baidew (elder sister) will join us there.”

Chief secretary S. Kabilan, who left for the capital today, will represent Assam in the talks. “He will attend a meeting on border issues pertaining to the Northeast tomorrow and stay back for the talks on June 22,” a source in the chief minister’s office said.

People associated with the peace process believe that neither Delhi nor the Ulfa leadership can afford to call off the peace initiative despite their tough posturing. “Too much water has flown down the Brahmaputra (since the process began) for any side to adopt such an extreme step. We actually might get to hear something pleasant after the talks,” a source said.

Although there has been no decision on the release of jailed Ulfa leaders ' the outfit’s condition for a “direct dialogue” ' indications are that it figures prominently in the PCG’s agenda.

“For the talks to go ahead, this issue needs to be resolved at the earliest. Either way, we will get to hear something on this very soon,” the source said.

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