NEW DELHI, Feb 6 � The proposed talks between ULFA and the Centre would be held at the Home Secretary level though the leaders of the militant group might have an introductory meeting with Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram on February 10.
Centre�s interlocutor P C Haldar told newsmen that the proposed meeting in Delhi would be a familiarisation exercise for both sides to know each other�s view before the formal dialogue process gets under way.
�It will be a preparatory kind of meeting. The talks would begin with a meeting with Home Secretary, while the Home Minister might drop in to meet the ULFA leaders, if he is available,� Haldar added.
Though the ULFA leaders have conveyed that they want the Prime Minister to be present during the talks, the possibility seems remote due to his prior engagements. The Prime Minister represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha.
However, the visiting ULFA leaders might get to meet the Prime Minister, though it would be only a courtesy call. The Prime Minister may not get into the nitty-gritty of the talks, Haldar said.
With the ULFA already conveying its willingness to sit for talks unconditionally, throwing enough hints that the core demand of �sovereignty� may not be pressed at the first round of deliberations, the Centre sees no hurdle in going ahead with the talks.
Indications are that after the February 10 meeting, which would be more of a preliminary round, the two sides, may sit and work out the modalities for talks including the possibility of signing a ceasefire agreement. The formal dialogue though is expected to start after the Assembly polls in Assam by which time, the ULFA leaders might be asked to prepare a draft charter of demands, sources said.
The Centre, meanwhile, would be also keeping watch on the activities of the rival Paresh Barua faction, particularly during the election period, sources said.
Meanwhile, the Government of Bhutan has expressed its apprehension about the possibility of its nationals being targeted by the militant outfit in the wake of the recent developments. They fear that some cadres might return to Bhutan and start their activities afresh.
Sources said External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is likely to assure the Bhutanese Government of India�s total support and protection to its interests during his meeting with his counterpart at the Foreign Ministers� meeting in Thimpu that gets under way on Monday.
Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao is also likely to convey India�s commitment to safeguard Bhutan�s interests including ensuring protection of its citizens from ULFA during her meeting with Bhutanese Foreign Secretary in Thimphu, sources added.
The Foreign Secretary ahead of her departure to Bhutan had a meeting with the Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram and other senior officials of the Ministry.
ULFA has been nursing a grudge against Bhutan Government because of Operation All Clear in December 2003, when not only the outfit�s safe bases were uprooted but several of its leaders were arrested and handed over to India while several others have gone missing and continue to remain traceless.
Meanwhile, it is Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi�s letter to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention in expediting the talk process that clinched the deal, sources said.
The Prime Minister�s Office (PMO) last week acted after receipt of the letter from the Chief Minister and conveyed to the Home Ministry the need to engage the ULFA leaders in dialogue. The Home Ministry held a meeting of its senior officials and decided on the date for the talks, the same day, sources informed.
Tarun Gogoi Government has been racing against time to hold at least one round of talks ahead of the ensuing election. The State Government feared that the Election Commission might announce the polls shortly and after the model code of conduct comes into effect, the process to hold negotiations would come to a naught.