Paresh Barua's return may be new Assam CM's top priority

Kolkata, May 11 (IANS): With the ULFA decimated by desertions and deaths of fighters in action, the new BJP government in Assam may push hard to bring elusive guerrilla leader Paresh Barua to the table.

A first-class soccer goalkeeper, Barua has been underground since 1979. Now he seems to be holed at Tenchong on the China-Myanmar border, from where he controls his fighters based in Taga in Sagaing region near the India-Myanmar border.

The two locations are hundreds of kilometres away but Barua rarely stays in his main base, perhaps for security reasons.

Barua's ULFA-Independent faction suffered a series of setbacks recently -- his 'western army' commander Drishti Rajkhowa surrendered, his successor Dwipen Saud was killed, and Barua's second-in-command Jiban Moran left the ULFA on "medical grounds" just before the Assam polls ended.

But, Moran's "sanctioned retirement" on medical ground may be the product of a closely-guarded secret operation to facilitate Barua's ultimate homecoming and joining negotiations with Delhi alongside his former ULFA comrades.

Though central intelligence officials and Assam DGP B.J. Mahanta have followed a relentless pressure and persuasion policy with the ULFA, Himanta Biswa Sarma's taking charge as Chief Minister may help expedite focused efforts to bring Barua back home.

Immediately after being sworn-in, Sarma appealed to the ULFA military wing chief to come to the table. He has a back channel with Barua for a while, say many surrendered ULFA leaders.

In 2016, Barua gave the only TV interview on camera ever to Newslive correspondent Chayamoni Bhutan. Newslive is owned by Sarma's wife. Some say messages passed back and forth under cover of the interview.

While Barua's interviews with other journalists have been done in jungle bases in Sagaing or when he was in hiding in Assam or Bhutan, the one with the Newslive correspondent was done in Ruili, a Chinese border town on the China-Myanmar frontier. Newslive did not disclose the place of the interview.

Stakes must have been high for Barua to give the interview in such a place, risking the ire of the Chinese authorities -- something more than media publicity Barua secures by calling up journalists seems to justify the Newslive interview.

Sources within both factions of the ULFA say it is time for Barua to come home and form an united front not only with his erstwhile comrades who are on the table after surrender or handover by Bangladesh but also with like-minded Assamese parties who push for protection of Assamese identity and a premium on use of its natural resources.

The Centre's interlocutor for Assam, A.B. Mathur, has already pulled off a brilliant all faction endorsed accord with Bodo rebel groups. He might try the same with the ULFA factions - a comprehensive settlement.

For the go-getter Sarma who just replaced his predecessor in the top seat, Sarbananda Sonowal, it would indeed be top priority -- and a feather in the cap -- if Barua comes back home and takes to the table for talks.


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