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Peace talks with ULFA on track

Vinay Kumar

But Bangladesh scenario worrisome

NEW DELHI: The Central Government is going ahead with the peace talks in Assam and informal, back channel contacts have been made to establish contact with the leadership of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).

Despite the fact that the U.S. has given a "terror tag" to ULFA and the outfit's reported involvement in blasts in Assam, the Centre has chalked out a course to enter into a peace dialogue with the ULFA leadership. Highly-placed Government sources said the ULFA had been insisting on holding talks with the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and putting the issue of sovereignty on the agenda. Notwithstanding the ULFA's insistence, the sources said its leadership would soon be invited for talks first with the National Security Adviser, M.K. Narayanan. "There are positive movements on this front," the sources said.

The Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, said the U.S. declaration would not affect the peace talks in which the State Government was involved. The Jnanapith award winner and writer, Indira Goswami, had been acting as the ULFA's contact point with the Centre but the sources said there were contacts with ULFA at other levels also.

TheULFA's chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa, has been quoted as saying that the outfit's inclusion in the list of terrorist organisations is a "ploy" by vested interests. However, security and intelligence sources said the U.S. declaration would put pressure on Bangladesh to check and curb ULFA activities at a time when Dhaka itself was being seen as a hub of Islamist radical outfits.

The operations to wipe out the ULFA camps in Bhutan had forced the group to depend heavily on Dhaka where its top leadership had taken refuge during the past few years.

Also, ULFA-sponsored attacks last August in Assam, when schoolchildren were killed, had drastically reduced the level of support for the group among the people of the State, the sources said. In such a scenario, the ULFA would like to grab any chance to enter into negotiations with the Centre. Assembly polls in Assam were also scheduled for 2006, a key factor in State politics.

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