New Delhi, June 22: Delhi and the Ulfa-constituted group of mediators today charted a long route to peace, beginning with the release of five jailed activists, progressing to a ceasefire and leading to “direct” talks between government negotiators and the militant leadership.
A joint statement after the third round of talks between the People’s Consultative Group, comprising mediators handpicked by the banned Ulfa, and the Union home ministry ended speculation about whether Assam had recommended the release of five or three jailed militants.
“Responding to the points made by the People’s Consultative Group, the home minister stated that their request for the release of five detainees would be considered favourably in consultation with the government of Ass-am. Simultaneously, he urged the PCG to impress upon Ulfa to ensure a peaceful and conducive environment so that direct talks with the government of India are held at the earliest,” the statement said.
There was more than a hint in the statement that plans could change if Ulfa resorted to violence ' a series of blasts in Guwahati and elsewhere in Assam nearly derailed the peace process ' while the modalities for a dialogue were being worked out. “The PCG assured the home minister that they would appeal to Ulfa to create a peaceful atmosphere in Assam, which would be conducive to direct talks. Further modalities for holding these talks between Ulfa and the government in a fixed timeframe will be worked out through mutual consultations... The meeting concluded with the hope that there would be restraint on all sides,” it said.
The two-and-a-half-hour meeting was the third between Delhi and the PCG, constituted last year.
Home secretary V.K. Duggal told the media that the “next” round of talks would be directly with the Ulfa. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired the first round in October. Today, home minister Shivraj Patil led the official delegation, which included national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, Assam chief secretary S. Kabilan and Duggal.
On whether the word “restraint” in the joint statement meant a ceasefire between the militant group and government forces, Duggal replied: “Nearly.”
The jailed Ulfa leaders who will be released are Pradip Gogoi, Bhimkanta Buragohain, Mithinga Daimary, Pranati Deka and Ramu Mech.
“We want their release to be expedited,” writer Mamoni Raisom Goswami, who has been involved in the peace process from the start, told the media.