Friday, September 29, 2006

Rebel Negotiators Pull Out of Peace Talks After Cease-fire Ends in Northeastern India

As reported by the Associated Press; Sept. 28, 2006

Separatist rebel negotiators pulled out of peace talks with the Indian government after New Delhi scrapped a cease-fire and resumed military operations in the strife-torn northeastern state of Assam, negotiators said.

Members of the Peoples Consultative Group, a team of negotiators appointed by rebels of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom or ULFA, said Wednesday they were withdrawing from the talks because the government had reneged on its commitments.

"We have to pull out of the peace process with New Delhi because the government has put preconditions which were not in the spirit of the discussions of the past year," said one of the negotiators, Dilip Patgiri.

Dozens of insurgencies have festered for years across India's seven northeastern states, including Assam. Nearly all the rebel groups are fighting for autonomy or independent homelands for indigenous peoples.

The militants say the central government in New Delhi -- 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) to the west -- exploits the northeast's rich natural resources and does little to improve its poor infrastructure and alleviate widespread unemployment.

The ULFA had appointed the nine-member team in September 2005 to prepare the ground for direct peace talks between the rebels and the government. After three rounds of talks over the past year, the government unilaterally declared a temporary truce on Aug. 13.

The ULFA reciprocated five days later, saying it also would halt attacks. Federal authorities extended the temporary truce three times, with the last extension ending Sept. 20.

However, the truce was called off on Sunday after ULFA rebels attacked a police patrol and killed a tea planter following a failed extortion attempt.

"The ULFA was indulging in extortion and were trying to regroup during the halt in military operations," said Assam's police chief, D.N. Dutt.

The government wants the rebels to pledge in writing their willingness to start peace talks, a demand that the rebels say is new and unnecessary.

At least two ULFA militants have been killed since the resumption of military operations on Sunday and several are in custody.