Govt nod for talks with ULFA outside India

Syed Zarir Hussain

Guwahati, May 31:

India’s new government today said it was ready to hold peace talks abroad with separatist groups in the northeast to help end long years of bloodshed in the region. “Holding talks in a neutral country should not be a problem considering that the world today is just a global village,” Minister of State for Defence Bijoy Krishna Handique said. The minister was responding to demands by a frontline separatist group, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), for holding peace talks outside India.

The ULFA had set three conditions for talks with the government - negotiations be held in a ‘third country’ under United Nations supervision and the talks should discuss the question of ‘sovereignty’ or independence. “Peace is what we are looking for and we don’t have any problems holding talks abroad,” the minister said. Handique, however, evaded a direct reply on the other two preconditions by ULFA. ULFA has listed the three preconditions for holding talks on numerous occasions when former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government was in power, but the administration did not respond to the rebels’ offer of talks. “Holding talks abroad on solving insurgency problems has been a successful strategy. In the past, the Congress government led by former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had successfully clinched an accord with the Mizo National Front (MNF) of Mizoram by first talking to their leaders abroad,” the minister said.

Handique, however, warned rebel groups against creating violence in the country. “Although we are talking of peace, it does not in any way mean we would go slow or be lenient against any groups indulging in anti-India activities by trying to create violence,” the minister said.

The previous government in New Delhi started peace talks abroad with a tribal Naga separatist group active in Nagaland. “This is the first time New Delhi is trying to adopt the same yardstick for holding talks with militant groups in this region,” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.