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ULFA chief released on bail, says ready for talks

Guwahati: ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa on Saturday walked free from jail on bail and declared his readiness for an "unconditional" peace dialogue with the Assam Government, which hinted that the ban on the outfit may be lifted ahead of the talks.

"We are committed to peace in Assam and take the peace process forward. We are ready for unconditional peace talks," the 54-year-old ULFA leader told his supporters outside the Gauhati Central Jail, where he was lodged for over a year.

He was released two days after a designated TADA court ordered his release on bail.

Rajkhowa asked ULFA cadres not to create divisions in the ranks and appealed to people not to be "restless" over the issue of peace talks.

He, however, appealed for the release of ULFA central council members Sasha Choudhury and Chitraban Hazarika as well to enable them to participate in a meeting to decide on the peace talks.

He urged the authorities to take necessary measures to facilitate (ULFA general secretary) Anup Chetia, now in a Bangladesh jail, to participate in the ULFA Council meeting.

Meanwhile, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said the ban on the ULFA could be lifted, if necessary.

"The majority of ULFA leaders have come forward for peace talks. Only one section has still remained opposed to talks and is still indulging in violence."

Gogoi warned the anti-talks faction that operations against them would not stop.

Rajkhowa was received at the jail premises by his elder brother Dimbo Rajkhowa and other family members.

He will be attending several public receptions on way to his home town Lakhuwa in upper Assam, which he will be visiting after a gap pf 30 years. Rajkhowa, 54, went underground after the formation of the ULFA on April 7, 1979.

Rajkhowa had been arrested after being handed over by the Bangladesh authorities in November last year at the Meghalaya border.

Rajkhowa is the senior-most ULFA leader to be released after the earlier release of the outfit`s self-styled vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, cultural secretary Pranati Deka and publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary as also senior leader and political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain on bail.

Gogoi told reporters, "There is no problem in Rajkhowa holding rallies, provided his speeches are on peace and talks within the framework of the Constitution."

"(ULFA finance secretary) Chitrabon Hazarika and (foreign secretary) Sasha Choudhury in jail now have to move their bail petitions for their release to participate in their general council meeting," Gogoi said.

Regarding Anup Chetia`s extradition, Gogoi said, "I have told the Centre to take up the issue. It will be good if he can come, but I have no information on it."

Asked how far the government is prepared to go in accommodating ULFA`s demands during peace talks, Gogoi said, "First we have to see what the ULFA will ask from us and then we will see how far we can accommodate their demands. But one thing is clear that (their core demand) sovereignty is non-negotiable."

There were are indications that many ULFA cadres holed up in Bangladesh and Myanmar were willing to come back to mainstream. "Paresh Baruah and his supporters should also come forward for talks for Assam`s development. Otherwise he will be left out," he said.

On the ULFA rejecting his safe passage offer during the upcoming Bhogali Bihu celebrations, Gogoi said, "They had earlier rejected my offer many times, but have nevertheless kept coming overground."

He said the ULFA is keen for peace talks which is why they entered into a discussion with government interlocutor P C Haldar. "The talks process will start soon in the new year after they hold their general council meeting," the chief Minister said.

Referring to the other militant outfit NDFB, he said the group`s anti-talk faction had sent him a formal letter wanting ceasefire and peace talks. NDFB leader Ranjan Daimary and his sister Anjali Daimary and others from that group had also met him personally, he said.

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