Peace talks will be legitimised if Chetia joins: Pro-talks ULFA faction

New Delhi, Nov 15 (IANS) As speculation continues that deported ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia will join the talks between the terror group and the central government, a senior member of the pro-talks group and the organisation’s “foreign secretary”, Sashadhar Choudhury, has said this will only legitimise the peace process and not necessarily bring about any qualitative change.

“Qualitatively i do not think there is going to be any change from the current status if Chetia joins the peace talks. However, if Chetia joins then the peace process will be legitimised more than the existing one,” Choudhury, whose real name is Sailen Choudhury, told IANS.

Chetia was deported to India on Nov 11 by Bangladesh, where he was arrested in 1997. He is currently in CBI custody.

Stressing that the existing pro-talks faction of ULFA, who entered into peace negotiations with the central government in 2010 after several top leaders were arrested, has submitted its agenda and debated on the points that can be agreed on, Choudhury said that it now depends on the government if it want to resolve the Assam problem or not.

Recently, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju had said that the government is planning to soon wind up the talks. The proposed date for the next round of peace talks between ULFA’s pro-talk faction, the Centre and the Assam government is November 24 in New Delhi.

Choudhury, who along with other senior leaders of the pro-talks faction, including the organisation’s ex-chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, has been granted bail by the Guwahati High Court since 2010, said: “I do not think that the government is trying to intentionally delay the peace process but if it wants a quick solution, it needs to speed up.”

One of the reasons that are believed to have paralysed the talks is the demand for tribal status for six communities – Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Chutiya, Moran, Muttock and the Adivasi tea garden workers who are recognized as tribals in other states. The communities together account for 20 percent of the electorate in the state and play a decisive role in more than 40 of the 126 assembly constituencies in six districts of upper Assam.

Asked if the deportation of Chetia will isolate Paresh Baruah, the “commander-in-chief” of ULFA’s military wing, Choudhury said: “I am not the right person to speak on this. We have no relationship with him, but then, it should not be considered that there is any contradiction between us in terms of ideology.”

“The only point where we differ is on having talks with the government. Nobody from this group has any contact with him. It is the Government of India who can have relations with Paresh Baruah. So it’s up to the government and Paresh Baruah’s organisation to deal with, even if any confrontation may arise,” Choudhury said.

Sounding supportive of Chetia for showing willingness towards the peace process, the 50-year-old leader stated that the government has assured a solution on the tribal status issue by December.

Speaking to IANS, Raju Baruah, the former “deputy Commander-in-chief” of the military wing, said: “Previously, we had contacted Anup Chetia and then many more letters have been sent to us by him showing his eagerness to join the peace process. We can finalise everything only after meeting Chetia.”

Asked if Paresh Barua would be backed if the negotiations fail, Raju, whose real name is Hitesh Kalita said : “We are the central body and we keep our commitment that we will involve ourselves with with the government only through negotiations.”

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