GUWAHATI, Aug 4 (IANS): Top leaders of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) led by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa left for New Delhi Thursday to open the first formal round of talks with the central government.
The peace talks between ULFA and the union home ministry officials will begin in the Indian capital Friday amid hopes of bringing the curtains down on one of northeast India's longest running and violent insurgencies.
"We are going to submit our charter of demands to the government during the talks and we are positive something concrete would emerge during the negotiation process," a senior ULFA leader told IANS, declining to be identified.
The government side is expected to be represented by union Home Secretary R.K. Singh, New Delhi's chief peace interlocutor P.C. Haldar, and senior ministry officials.
"We believe the home minister (P. Chidambaram) would also make a customary appearance during the talks although he might not be taking part in the discussions directly," the rebel leader said.
ULFA, one of the biggest rebel outfits in the tea and oil-rich region of Assam, has fought for an independent homeland for ethnic Assamese since 1979.
At least 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Assam because of fighting between government forces and various rebel groups.
The much-hyped talks, however, hit a major roadblock with the elusive ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah rejecting the initiative.
Baruah, said to be hiding in the Myanmar-China border area, said in an e-mail statement: "We cannot support peace talks as the ULFA leadership led by Rajkhowa is under the influence of our enemy (government)."
Another ULFA leader, fugitive Anup Chetia, who has been in detention in Bangladesh where he also completed a jail term, is in the process of being handed over to India, Bangladesh officials recently said.
At least eight top ULFA leaders who are expected to take part in Friday's talks are out on bail, with the government facilitating their release from jail in order to pave the way for negotiations.
Apart from Rajkhowa, the other ULFA leaders who are expected to be in the talks include vice chairman Pradeep Gogoi, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka and political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.