Dhemaji (Assam): He may have sought forgiveness, but the elusive commander-in-chief of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Paresh Baruah is under fire - from both his former comrades in arms and the families of those killed in blasts triggered by the outfit.
"I don`t think they (ULFA) could be pardoned and should face severe punishment. The only way they could be forgiven for the heinous acts they committed is by way of joining the peace talks and abjuring violence once and for all," Lobita Saikia, a middle-aged woman who lost her two teenaged school going daughters in a bomb blast, said.
Lobita`s two daughters, Aruna and Rupa were among 14 people killed on August 15, 2005 in a powerful explosion at an Independence Day parade ground in Dhemaji, 450 km east of Assam`s main city of Guwahati.
The distraught mother was reacting to the ULFA commander-in-chief`s emailed statement Sunday publicly apologising and seeking forgiveness from the people of Assam for the Dhemaji explosion.
"Can anybody bring back my two daughters? More than 12,000 people were killed by the ULFA and now we don`t want anymore explosions and bloodshed...let them sit for peace talks and stop killings," Lobita said as tears welled up in her eyes.
Similar views were echoed by young Bhaskar Gogoi who lost his wife Nomita in the Dhemaji blast.
"It is difficult to forget what happened to me and my family and Paresh Baruah should realise that fighting from some foreign land for Assam would fail to yield any result. But for the greater interest of Assam, one could forgive the ULFA if they come out and join the peace process," Gogoi said as he came out of a temple in his portico after offering prayers with the smiling photograph of his wife adorning the walls.
"But then such acts of violence cannot be overlooked."
In his statement, Baruah had blamed some of their cadres for the Dhemaji bombing, saying the blast was triggered without the clearance from their leadership.
Baruah, without naming anybody, hinted at some cadres and leaders of the outfit who are now in a ceasefire mode with the government and named as the "pro-talk ULFA faction".
"I think Paresh Baruah has lost his mental balance and the accusations against us are a bunch of lies. Why was he silent for more than five years and why he couldn`t take any action if someone did the blast without clearance from the leadership," retorted an angry Mrinal Hazarika, leader of the pro-talk ULFA faction.
Hazarika led a group of about 150 cadres and entered into a ceasefire in July 2008 - all of them belonging to ULFA`s Alpha and Charlie companies of the 28th battalion, the two most potent striking units of the outfit.
"Paresh Baruah is getting isolated day by day and today he is a mere paper tiger, issuing statements and trying to make his presence felt by way of the media," Hazarika said.
"People of Assam have realised that Paresh Baruah is trying to play some dirty politics at the expense of those who were killed in the Dhemaji blast."
Meanwhile, the state and the Central government have once again rejected ULFA`s demand for sovereignty.
"Let the ULFA come for talks, but sovereignty cannot be discussed," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said from New Delhi.
Gogoi on Monday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discussed strategies to break the deadlocked peace process with the ULFA.