Ulfa-I chief holds out olive branch, ‘open to peace talks’


GUWAHATI, MAY 7: Amid furore and anguish following the death of a young police officer in an encounter with Ulfa (Independent) cadres in Tinsukia district on Friday, Paresh Baruah – chief of what had till now been an anti-talks faction – on Sunday accused the Centre of not giving him the opportunity for placing his demands on the discussion table.
In a change of stance, Baruah told a local television channel on Sunday: “If the Government of India wants a dialogue, it has to treat the Ulfa issue as a political issue, just like the NSCN (I-M)’s issue. Ours is not an issue that can be resolved with guns.” While the demand for sovereignty is not off the table, Baruah said Ulfa (I) is open to discussions. “Give us the opportunity to place our demands. If India is a democracy, it is not illegal for one community to ask for sovereignty,” he said. He added, “If given the chance, we will try to convince the Government of India why we want freedom. Likewise, it is for the Government of India to put forward its reasoning and try and convince us why we can’t have sovereignty.” Baruah, who has been hopping across countries and remained elusive since he teamed up with his cousin Anup Chetia to form Ulfa in Shibsagar in 1979, has been standing his ground, saying no to peace talks without ‘Assam’s sovereignty’ on the agenda for nearly 4 decades.
Baruah had first announced his willingness to talk in 1994 and even declared ceasefire, only to regroup the outfit. The next time was in 2005 when he got then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to sit for talks with a panel of his selected members, which never reached conclusion. After the arrest of all other top leaders, including chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa in 2009, the outfit split and the Rajkhowa-led faction joined the peace process. (TNN)