The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi spells out talks stand
- Mediators to ask Ulfa to respond by end of month

New Delhi, Aug. 23: Delhi today firmed its stand on talks with Ulfa, specifying to mediators exactly what it expects of the outfit and outlining its own plans.

An assurance of a “maximum” 15-day extension of the period of suspension of army operations against Ulfa — provided the outfit holds fire, too — was the highlight of the discussion Mamoni Raisom Goswami and Rebati Phukan had with national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, Union home secretary V.K. Duggal and Intelligence Bureau director E.S.L. Narasimhan.

Delhi said the extension would be reviewed if violence and extortion by the outfit were reported from anywhere in Assam.

Unlike last week, when Goswami and Phukan emerged from a meeting with Narayanan and Duggal looking buoyant, the duo’s body language at the end of discussion today was not exactly ecstatic. The outcome of the second meeting will be conveyed to the Ulfa leadership and a reply sought by the end of this month, they said.

Phukan, a childhood friend of Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, said the next meeting would be crucial. “We have some points to clarify and then to speak to the chairman of Ulfa. The Ulfa leadership will reciprocate by the end of August and direct talks can be held.”

A direct dialogue between Delhi and the outfit, however, looked a long way off, and so did the release of five jailed militant leaders.

Delhi’s willingness to release five jailed Ulfa leaders remained a conditional one with Narayanan and company insisting on a written commitment from the outfit that it would come to the negotiating table. The government team said the letter should specify the date and time for talks and mention the names of the leaders who would participate in the dialogue.

The communiqué will have to mention, Duggal elaborated later, that Ulfa was committed to the initiative to restore peace in Assam and ensure the state’s welfare. On whether freedom for five jailed militant leaders was imminent, the Union home secretary indicated that Delhi wanted the participation of Arabinda Rajkhowa and Paresh Barua in talks and the release of five of their colleagues to be simultaneous.

“We have already suggested that they (Ulfa leaders) will have the chance to work (with the five prisoners) on the agenda before talks,” he added.

The imprisoned leaders whom Ulfa wants freed before talks are part of the outfit’s central committee.

Goswami told the media that Paresh Barua had told her that he was ready to send a representative. She said the discussion was positive, but Phukan added that the Centre had brought in “one or two new points”.

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