Guwahati: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s decision not to oppose the release of the jailed leadership of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) to facilitate peace talks has been hailed in Assam which has suffered over three decades of insurgency.
"The prime minister`s announcement is indeed very positive and we welcome his gesture," Bijon Mahajan, legal counsel for jailed ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, told reporters.
Manmohan Singh announced the decision in New Delhi Monday to a six-member delegation of the newly-floated Citizen`s Forum, an 11-member body of academics, writers, retired police and army officers, rights leaders and intellectuals.
Releasing six top jailed ULFA leaders so that they could hold their central executive with full freedom in order to prepare for peace talks was one of the key demands put forward by the Forum.
The Forum, which is taking the lead to explore possibilities of opening talks between the ULFA and the government, was formed in April and claims the support of at least 100 civil society and other ethnic groups.
"We are happy with the developments. From our side we are ready to do whatever possible to start the process of political negotiations with the ULFA although we cannot give a timeline," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told reporters.
Hiranya Bhattacharya, one of six Forum leaders who met the prime minister, said: "We are indeed happy with the prime minister`s positive approach as he showed commitment in opening talks with the ULFA."
Barring ULFA`s elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, the entire top brass of the outfit is in jail.
The imprisoned leaders include chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka, and ULFA political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.
ULFA vice chairman Pradip Gogoi and publicity chief Mithinga Daimary are out on bail and drumming up public support to open peace talks.
"This is a positive beginning. We hope the talks will begin soon. We will give full support to positive developments," said Mrinal Hazarika, leader of the pro-talk faction of the ULFA.
Hazarika, along with about 200 militants belonging to ULFA`s Alpha and Charlie companies of the 28th battalion, the two most potent striking units, declared a unilateral ceasefire in 2008. The group named itself as the pro-talk ULFA faction.
"Let us hope peace dawns in Assam once and for all so that people of the state do not have to witness killings and bloodshed any more," said noted Assamese writer Indira Goswami.
Goswami earlier tried brokering peace between the ULFA and the government.
The ULFA is waging a war for independence since 1979 and has always maintained that talks, if any, should revolve around their main demand of sovereignty for Assam.