The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has suffered a vertical split with the hardline faction led by its elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah Sunday forming a new central committee by dropping the eight top rebel leaders now engaged in peace talks with New Delhi.
"We have decided to have a new central committee comprising of 16 members and a standing committee with three members. We would also have three respectable individuals as political advisors to carry forward our goal for creation of an independent sovereign Assam," said Arunodoi Dohotia, publicity chief of the ULFA (Paresh Baruah faction), in an email received by IANS.
The anti-talk faction in the same statement that the eight top leaders, including chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, would be accepted back in the outfit if they realize their mistake of negotiating with the government.
"If they realize their mistake or want to come back to our fold after the talks fail, we shall consider taking them back into the outfit," the rebel statement said.
The eight top ULFA leaders are Rajkhowa, vice chairman Pradeep Gogoi, deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka, publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary and octogenarian political ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.
All the top eight ULFA leaders are out on bail now with the government facilitating their release from prison to pave the way for formal peace talks.
The first round of formal talks began in February with the rebel leadership meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P.C. Chidambaram in New Delhi.
The ULFA's commander-in-chief is believed to be somewhere along the China-Myanmar border and bitterly opposed to holding of talks without the core issue of sovereignty or independence forming part of the negotiations.
The ULFA was formed in 1979 with the sole objective of carving out an independent homeland in Assam with the more than 30-year-old insurgency claiming over 10,000 lives.
The ULFA statement has clearly exposed chinks in the peace process and the very fact that outfit is now split between the pro-talk faction led by Rajkhowa and Paresh Baruah, bitterly opposed to the negotiations.
Meanwhile, the pro-talk faction and the government have termed Paresh Baruah's decision as unfortunate.
"The decision by the Paresh Baruah faction to restructure the organization is unconstitutional and wrong," Rajkhowa said, adding theirs is the real ULFA.
"We don't recognize Paresh Baruah's group and talks with the ULFA would continue," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.