Monday, November 29, 1999

PM hopeful of peace initiatives in Assam: Gogoi

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New Delhi, June 17 (PTI) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is "hopeful" of a positive outcome of the Assam government''s efforts in ending the decades-old insurgency in the state, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today said. "The prime minister is very hopeful of the peace initiatives. He is hopeful of a positive outcome," Gogoi told PTI, a day after the government gave its "green signal" to the peace talks with the banned ULFA and former Intelligence Bureau chief P C Haldar agreed to act as interlocutor. Asked to elaborate about the "green signal", he refused to divulge details saying, "I got something very good from somebody very important. "The interlocutor will talk to them. We will also talk. Then we will move. But there will be no talks on sovereignty demand of the outfit. The talks will be held as per provisions of the Constitution." He said Singh has also agreed to meet a delegation of Assamese intellectuals who have been playing a key role in initiating talks with the group. Gogoi on Tuesday had briefed Singh about his government''s initiatives to hold dialogue with the banned group. "We are moving in the right direction. It is a good beginning and we want to move step-by-step," Gogoi, who met Union Home Minister P Chidambaram yesterday, told reporters earlier. Asked whether talks will be fruitful without group''s military chief Paresh Baruah, he said "if the government can bring 70 per cent of the ULFA leaders to peace process than why should we wait for. "If he (Barua) comes, it is well and good. Otherwise we will go ahead. As of today, he is not keen on talks," he said, adding the prime minister also asked about Barua. "I got positive response (from ULFA). Out of 18 leaders, nine are in custody in Assam and nine are abroad. We are trying to rope in those who are not in Assam including Paresh Barua," he said. According to him, Assam government will provide "facilities" to jailed ULFA leaders in Assam so that they could hold discussion among themselves. On whether the government was considering freeing some ULFA leaders currently lodged in jails, he said only courts can decide about the issue. "We cannot free the jailed leaders. Only courts can decide on the issue. But we will provide all the facilities so that they can talk among themselves," he said. Noting that he was not expecting a "miracle" about the peace initiatives, Gogoi said "Barua must read the writing on the wall." Replying to a question whether state government would provide safe passage to Barua if he wants to come to Assam for the peace efforts, the Assam Chief Minister said government would be willing to consider such gesture. Queried whether government would halt military operation against ULFA, Gogoi said there was no question of even slowing down the operations against rebels.

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