As the July 1 Kakapathar encounter in Tinsukia district of Upper Assam by Indian Army and Assam Police killed one from the United Liberation Front of Assam- Independent (ULFA-I) cadre, rebel group chief Paresh Baruah said the Government of India should establish understanding and faith to start peace talks.

Speaking to News18 from an undisclosed location over the phone, Baruah said, “In times of heavy rain and floods all over Assam, why did they (Indian forces) carry out such an operation against ULFA-I? Our group had just come down to Assam to collect essential items such as food, medicine, etc. It shows they don’t want to initiate talks with us.”

“We were in unilateral ceasefire for nine months in the name of Covid-19 pandemic. After that big effort from us, the GOI did not show any effort to make the atmosphere conducive for talks.”

Baruah-led ULFA-I is ready to sit across the negotiation table with the GOI on a single-point agenda of sovereignty. “We are always ready for talks on our core issue of sovereignty."

Baruah said he has faith in Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma who wants to start talks.

The Movement

The ULFA movement started on April 7, 1979 from the historic site of Ranghar in Sibsagar district of Upper Assam, and got enmeshed with the student movement led by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) against the inclusion of illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the voters’ list in Assam from 1979-1985.

However, while the Assam movement ended with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 and the formation of a political party, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the ULFA movement continued as an armed struggle for the independence of Assam.

The ULFA leadership stated the goal of their movement was ‘Swadhin Asom’, “where all indigenous people will stay, while others will have to leave”.

Ops And Peace Process

On November 29, 1990, the first major army operation against ULFA, codenamed Operation Bajrang, was declared and ULFA was banned by the Centre. Ever since 1990, there have been multiple army operations against the rebel group, both in Assam and other Indian territories. Some of the major operations include Operation Rhino I and II in 1991 and 1992, respectively; Operation All Clear in Bhutan by Bhutan Royal Army in 2003, operation against ULFA’s leadership in Bangladesh in 2009 and most recently Myanmar’s Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) occupied insurgent camps in the Sagaing region in 2019 and 2020.

In 1991, a group of ULFA wanted to start peace talks with the Centre. The pro-talks faction surrendered. The second initiative for talks was taken when ULFA nominated nine members from civil society on its behalf and formed the People’s Consultative Group (PCG) in 2005 to renegotiate with the government. The late Mamoni Raisom Goswami was its chief coordinator, and Rebati Phukan (now missing) was appointed the co-coordinator. Three rounds of positive discussions were held between 2005 and 2006 on the release of ULFA’s top leaders from jail, and also to seek information on the cadres missing since 2003. However, the talks were abandoned when Indian Army killed eight cadres of ULFA and later the insurgent group continued to kill, extort, and resorted to bombings.

After capture and handover of the top leadership, including Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, by the Bangladesh government in 2009, eminent writer professor Hiren Gohain led the third initiative in 2010 under the umbrella of Sanmilita Jatiya Abhivartan.

More than a hundred civil society organisations, along with individuals in different capacities, participated in the convention. The convention called for free passage and subsequent release of top ULFA leaders, and favoured the talks between ULFA and the Centre. However, till date, there has been no breakthrough.