Peace talks with ULFA-I can progress if it drops sovereignty demand: Assam CM

Guwahati: Peace talks with the banned ULFA (Independent) outfit can progress if it is prepared to discuss grievances and issues other than sovereignty, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

“ULFA (I) chief Paresh Baruah insists that he will not discuss anything beyond sovereignty but I have taken an oath to protect sovereignty. These two are irreconcilable,” the chief minister told PTI in an interview.

“At the same time, if we can coin another term to discuss their grievances or various issues, then we can make some progress. There are many well-intended people who are working on the issue with the ULFA chief to convince him to discuss something substantial without insisting on (inclusion of) the word. Let us see what happens,” Sarma said.

“The word is not a terminology for us but is solemn and we take oath that it is our duty to protect our sovereignty and not cede an inch of our land. For him also there is a compulsion, so there is a need to arrive at a certain definition which can address the issues of both concerned,” the chief minister said.

“There is no immediate answer to the problem but it will evolve over time. I remain hopeful, though at the same time nothing can be predicted on these issues,” he said.

The talks have made slow progress. The chief minister said the climate is positive but added that as talks progressed, sometimes it becomes entirely different. So one cannot be definite about it (solution through the talks) but we can hope and pray, he added.

Sarma after taking oath on May 10 had appealed to the ULFA (I) to come forward for peace talks and resolve the more than three decade old insurgency problem in the state.

Asked about the current status of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Sarma said that its State Coordinator has filed a petition in the Supreme Court for a re-verification and a re-look at the document.

“It is now up to the Court to hear the petition. Maybe it has been delayed due to the prevailing COVID situation but as the petition has been filed, it will definitely come up for hearing,” he added.

The final NRC, published on August 31, 2019, had excluded the names of over 19 lakh people. Many stakeholders, including the BJP government in the state, described it as a flawed document and have demanded a re-verification, particularly in districts bordering Bangladesh.

A number of communities have been demanding Scheduled Tribe status. The chief minister described the demand as a complex issue and felt a solution should emerge from among the tribal communities.

“The moment a community is granted tribal status, other tribal communities start opposing it. I do not want a clash between them. We have to address these issues tactfully and not in a hurried manner,” he said.

Six communities in Assam — Moran, Motok, Tai Ahom, Chutiyas, Koch-Rajbongshis and the tea tribes or adivasis — have been demanding ST status. Some of these communities are already categorized as Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Former Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had formed a Group of Ministers, headed by Sarma, to prepare a report on the issue.

On the issue of coal mining in Tinsukia district, which had led to widespread protests by environmentalists and concerned citizens, the chief minister said that there is a need to protect the fragile biodiversity of the region but at the same time many livelihoods are dependent on mining.

“Mining in the area was going on till last year from the early 1900s and since many livelihoods are dependent on it, we are of the view that wherever it is possible mining activities may continue without disturbing the biodiversity of the area,” he said.

In Bongaigaon, NTPC had started a power generation project for which coal is to be transported from Margherita in Tinsukia district but there has been no supply for the last one year.

“As a result, we are purchasing power at a very high price and who is paying for it? The common people of the state. We need to balance various approaches, but at the same time, we will not do anything that will affect the biodiversity of Upper Assam,” he added.

There is, however, no proposal to start mining in the Joypur area, near the newly created Dehing-Patkai National Park in the state, Sarma asserted.

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2 Arrested For Grenade Blast In Assam's Tinsukia, Police Point At ULFA Role

Twenty-five-year-old Sanjit Singh and 22-year-old Surajit Talukdar, both residents of Tingrai, were killed in the incident

Police have recovered a motorcycle from the accused, Ranjit Changmai and Hiren Gogoi

Guwahati: Two persons have been arrested in connection with the May 14 grenade blast at a market in Assam's Tinsukia district that left two persons dead.

The accused have been identified as Ranjit Changmai and Hiren Gogoi alias Munu.

The district's newly appointed Superintendent of Police Debojit Deori confirmed the arrests. "Right now, I cannot say anything about the case because our interrogation is on," he added.

Police have also recovered a motorcycle from the accused.

Two persons were killed when a grenade was thrown in front of a hardware shop at Tingrai market in Tinsukia's Digboi police station area. Two others were seriously injured in the attack by two men on a motorcycle.

Twenty-five-year-old Sanjit Singh and 22-year-old Surajit Talukdar, both residents of Tingrai, were killed in the incident.

Following the blast, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had called up Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had assured him swift police action in the matter.

Earlier, police arrested one Dipen Saikia from Tamuli Bongaon in Digboi for alleged involvement in the blast. It is alleged that Saikia helped the bikers with the logistics.

Special DGP, Assam Police, G P Singh tweeted, "Both the accused involved in Tingrai grenade blast have been apprehended. The motorcycle used has also been recovered. @CMOfficeAssam @himantabiswa @assampolice @DGPAssamPolice Good work Team @TinsukiaPolice"

He added, "The blast was carried out at directions of Senior ULFA leaders based outside Assam."

Insurgent outfit ULFA(I), known to be active in the area, has denied its involvement in the blast.

The state government has announced a compensation of ₹ 5 lakh for the families of each of the victims. The Chief Minister visited the blast site the day after the incident and strongly condemned the act. Mr Sarma also visited the residence of Surajit Talukdar where he assured stern action against the culprits.

Top Leader Of Banned Assam Outfit ULFA-I Gunned Down In Encounter

The banned outfit has been named in at least two recent kidnappings.

3 ULFA(pro-talk) leaders arrested for conspiring to assassinate Himanta Biswa Sarma

Guwahati, Mar 9 Three persons, including the

vice president of ULFA pro-talk faction, were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to kill Assam minister and North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma, a senior police officer said.

Munna Prasad Gupta, the police commissioner of Guwahati, told PTI that the force had "received an input about the conspiracy" and immediately initiated an investigation into the matter.

"We picked up the trio last night (Monday night).

Following their interrogation, we arrested all three and produced them before a court. They have been remanded in police custody for three days," he said.

The trio have been slapped with a raft of charges under various sections of the IPC, including 120B (criminal conspiracy), 121 (attempt to wage war against the state) and section 18 (conspiracy of a terror act) of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

One of the three accused has been identified as ULFA's pro-talk faction vice president Pradip Gogoi, Gupta said.

"We are yet to find out more details about the other two, but we believe they must have some connection with the ULFA. Everything will be clear after a thorough investigation," the police commissioner added. PTI


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