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Safe passage to and fro if ULFA’s Baruah comes for talks: Gogoi

Signalling he is more than keen to walk the extra mile to bring peace to the North-East,Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has offered ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah....

Written by Swaraj Thapa | New Delhi | December 18, 2009 2:07:49 am

Signalling he is more than keen to walk the extra mile to bring peace to the North-East,Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has offered ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah “safe passage” to and fro if he is willing to leave his hideout and come forward for talks with the government.

“I am willing to give safe passage to Paresh Baruah if he abjures violence,gives up the sovereignty demand and comes for talks,” Gogoi told The Indian Express in an interview. “We will not arrest. They can go back if the talks fail. The government will not do anything,” he said.

The elusive Baruah is believed to be holed up somewhere in the jungles of Myanmar with added intelligence that he also crosses over to China at times.

Gogoi’s fresh initiative to extend the olive branch to the top militant is significant in the backdrop of the capture of ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa earlier this month who is now in custody of security agencies in Assam. On Wednesday,Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told Rajya Sabha that the government was willing to hold talks with the ULFA leadership,including the arrested Rajkhowa.

“We may even withdraw all cases against the ULFA leadership if the talks succeed,” Gogoi said,asserting that a similar initiative had been taken in the case of Bodo militants as well as in Mizoram. “The same principles will apply,” he said. Over the last two days,Gogoi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram in New Delhi where the ULFA issue was discussed.

Extending the offer to Rajkhowa,Gogoi said the government was willing to give due dignity to the ULFA chairman in custody if he agreed for talks within the ambit of the Constitution. “I’ll put a gamcha on him and embrace him,” he said. The gamcha,a typical Assamese light towel,is normally draped around the shoulders while according respect to someone. “Inspite of all the senseless killings of students,minor boys and girls,we are prepared to talk in order to bring lasting peace,progress and development in Assam. The government door is open,” he said.

Gogoi,however,ruled out treating Rajkhowa as a political prisoner at this juncture. “I don’t consider him as one at the moment. He was arrested because he committed offences against the state. But if he agrees for talks,he may not even be a prisoner,” he said. Rajkhowa,in a brief interaction with reporters while being produced in courts in Guwahati earlier this month,had pointed to his handcuffs and said talks could not be held in such a situation.

Gogoi did indicate though,that his government was willing to wait for the ULFA leadership to make up their mind. Notwithstanding the failure to bring ULFA to the negotiating table the first time,Gogoi said he was still willing to make a second attempt for peace in Assam. “Even the first time,I had my doubts about the PCG. Yet I went ahead because

there was still a possibility of them coming to the table,howsoever remote,” he said.

He did make it clear,however,that the government’s efforts to nab ULFA militants would not slacken just because of the attempts to bring Baruah to the negotiating table. “Our effort is to bring in as many as possible so that Baruah is eventually isolated. If he comes in also,it will be 100 per cent achievement,” he said.

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