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Talks with PM on ULFA postponed

By The Assam Tribune

Guwahati, June 21 (IANS): A meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Citizen's Forum to explore the chances of talking peace with the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was postponed on Monday.

"We got a phone call from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) saying the meeting was cancelled, although the person who called up did not cite any reason nor were any fresh date given to us," Hiren Gohain, convenor of the Citizen's Forum, told IANS by telephone from New Delhi.

A six-member group of the newly-formed Forum was scheduled to meet Manmohan Singh at his residence at 10.30 a.m.

"We were not begging for a meeting with the Prime Minister, but at the same time we expect to get a fresh date and time as the issue we were to discuss with him is indeed a very serious one relating to three decades of insurgency by the ULFA," Gohain said. "We do not think it is a setback to the peace process, but felt a little disappointed at the cancellation of the scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister."

The Forum, an 11-member committee comprising academics, writers, retired police and army officers, rights leaders, and intellectuals, was formed in April and claims the support of at least 100 civil society and other ethnic groups. The Forum in April held a citizen's conclave and resolved to broker peace between the government and the ULFA to ring the curtains down on more than three decades of insurgency in Assam.

"Most of the jailed ULFA leaders are for peace talks and that is the impression we got during our meetings with them," Gohain said.

The ULFA is waging a war for independence since 1979 and has always maintained that talks, if any, should revolve around their main demand of sovereignty.

The Forum had earlier sought the release of all jailed ULFA leaders to enable them to hold the outfit's general council meeting to take a decision regarding holding peace talks with the government.

Barring ULFA's elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, the entire top brass of the outfit is in jail. The imprisoned leaders include chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled 'foreign secretary' Sasha Choudhury, 'finance secretary' Chitrabon Hazarika, 'cultural secretary' Pranati Deka, and ULFA political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.

Two other leaders - ULFA vice chairman Pradip Gogoi and publicity chief Mithinga Daimary - are currently out on bail and engaged in drumming up public support for peace talks.

Almost all the jailed leaders, including the ULFA chairman, expressed their willingness for peace talks, but want their release.

Both the central and state governments had earlier rejected holding talks with the ULFA on the issue of sovereignty, but said they were ready for unconditional talks.

The Forum was formed after Pradip Gogoi and Mithinga Daimary met leading citizens in the state and appealed for their help in furthering the deadlocked peace process.

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