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Haze over Ulfa leaders’ release

Guwahati, June 21: Assam today put the onus of taking the peace process forward on Delhi by saying it had done “whatever was possible” to facilitate a breakthrough, but the issue of releasing jailed Ulfa leaders remained a tricky proposition and a potential talks spoiler.

The Union home ministry will be holding the third round of talks with the Ulfa-constituted People’s Consultative Group in New Delhi tomorrow. A home ministry team today held a couple of meetings with state government officials to come up with an agenda for talks. The PCG delegation, too, left for the capital in the afternoon.

The Ulfa’s team of mediators is certain to raise the issue of releasing incarcerated militant leaders, especially because some reports have indicated that Dispur has not recommended the names of all the functionaries that the outfit wants out of jail.

A senior official in the chief minister’s office parried questions on whether Dispur had recommended the names of five leaders ' Bhimkanta Buragohain, Pranati Deka, Pradip Gogoi, Mithinga Daimary and Ramu Mech ' or three. There has been speculation about the list containing the names of only Buragohain, Deka and Gogoi.

“As a goodwill gesture, Dispur has clearly recommended the release of jailed leaders, but I am not in a position to reveal the number. Moreover, PCG members have themselves said that the chief minister is backing the peace process. Such negotiations are based on the merits of a particular case. Let us not forget that the problem we are dealing with is essentially a political issue,” he said.

The official also said Delhi, not Dispur, would take the all-important decision on who among the Ulfa leaders should be released to boost the peace process. “It is now for Delhi to take a decision. A lot depends on how the talks progress tomorrow.”

Ulfa has told the government that all jailed members of its central executive committee must be freed for the panel to be able to take a decision on “direct” talks with Delhi.

The People’s Committee for Peace Initiatives in Assam, a conglomerate of various organisations, has also been insisting on the release of jailed militant leaders. Two PCG members, Dilip Patgiri and Lachit Bordoloi, are in the committee.

After a meeting this morning, the committee said it was trying to mobilise public opinion on the need for a political solution to militancy. It said some people were trying to derail the peace process through a “misinformation campaign” against the Ulfa leadership.

Union home minister Shivraj Patil, national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, Assam chief secretary S. Kabilan and the director-general of police will attend the meeting with the PCG, to be held at North Block.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi cited a health problem as the reason for not being part of the official team.

The Prime Minister’s Office recently pulled out “completely” from the talks, leaving it to the home ministry to take the process forward.

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