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Ice Broken: P Chidambaram

NEW DELHI, Feb 10  :Breaking new grounds, Government today held for the first time unconditional talks with leaders of banned outfit ULFA and said it was “confident” of finding a “just and honorable solution” to the over three decade-old insurgency problem in Assam.

“As you are aware that they (ULFA) have offered unconditional talks with Government of India and Government of Assam to find out an honorable and just solution to the issues raised by them.

“I welcome them. I assured them that the Government of India and Government of Assam will engage them in sincere and meaningful talks and I am confident that we will find a just and honorable solution,” Home Minister P Chidambaram said after ULFA leaders led by their ‘chairman’ Arabinda Rajkhowa met him before entering into talks here.

“They called on me which is a courtesy call… These are very preliminary stages (of talks), you (media) should cooperate and they will feel confident which will help to find a solution through talks, he said. An eight-member ULFA delegation led by Rajkhowa went into a full session with senior officials led by Home Secretary G K Pillai for about an hour.

This is the first time that such unconditional talks are being held in ULFA’s 31-year-old history.

The meeting was also attended by Assam Home Secretary N K Das, Additional Director General Police (Assam) Khagen Sharma, Assam Home Commissioner Jishnu Barua, Centre’s interlocutor P C Haldar, Secretary (Internal Security) UK Bansal and Intelligence Bureau chief N Sandhu. On February 5, the ULFA announced that it will sit for unconditional talks with the Centre “respecting the wishes of the people of Assam”. It also apologized for the violent acts it committed. Apart from Rajkhowa, ‘vice-chairman’ Pradip Gogoi, ‘political advisor’ Bhimakanta Buragohain, ‘foreign secretary’ Sasha Choudhury, ‘finance secretary’ Chitrabon Hazarika, ‘cultural secretary’ Pranati Deka, ‘publicity secretary’ Mithinga Daimary and ‘deputy commander-in-chief’ Raju Barua participated in the talks. The ULFA delegation arrived here last evening and was whisked away by security personnel to an undisclosed destination. Before leaving for the national capital, the ULFA leaders had met Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and sought his cooperation to take forward the peace process with the Centre. “I hope talks with the Centre are successful and they discussed with me how to take the peace process forward”, Gogoi had said. Rajkhowa said the modalities for the talks have not been worked out so far and will come later.

The ULFA leaders released from jail recently have decided to hold unconditional talks with the government but the faction led by the group’s ‘commander- in-chief’ Paresh Barua is opposed to it. The ULFA delegation is also likely to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on February 13 after his return from Kerala.

(Courtesy: Press Trust of India)

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