ULFA softens demand on Assam independence

GUWAHATI Mon Jan 3, 2011 6:33pm IST

Soldiers stand guard in Guwahati in this February 15, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Utpal Baruah/Files

Soldiers stand guard in Guwahati in this February 15, 1998 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Utpal Baruah/Files

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GUWAHATI (Reuters) - United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the top militant group fighting in the country's remote northeast for almost three decades has dropped its demand for independence in talks with New Delhi, softening its stand in an insurgency that has killed thousands of people.

The ULFA is one of the deadliest separatist groups in the northeast, and progress in resolving the insurgency, which has been a drain on resources, would boost New Delhi in a region rich in oil and tea.

Arabinda Rajkhowa, also known as Rajib Rajkonwar, chairman of ULFA, said on Sunday his group was for the first time willing to talk to the government without condition.

The group has until now set conditions, including talks under United Nations supervision on the independence of Assam state. New Delhi rejected that demand.

"If our peace efforts fail we will come back to you and seek your guidance on whether to take up arms again or fight it out politically for our rights," Rajkhowa, who was caught in 2009 and released on bail this month, told a public rally.

Thousands have died in three decades of violence since ULFA was formed in 1979 in Assam, demanding independence from India which it accused of plundering the region's mineral and agricultural resources, but public support for the group has sagged recently.

(Reporting By Biswajyoti Das; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Daniel Magnowski)

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