At a time when Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma expressed optimism on a peace agreement with the United Liberation Front of Assam-Independent (ULFA-I) soon, reports have emerged that the insurgent outfit launched a fresh drive to extort money from tea planters and businessman in Upper Assam.
The over-ground cadres of the ULFA(I) have reportedly served extortion notices to the management of several tea gardens, coal traders, timber merchants and other businessman.
This was carried out following a directive by the chief of the banned insurgent outfit, Paresh Baruah.
The outfit has reportedly demanded a hefty amount of money from the traders. It is learned that traders from Golaghat, Sivasagar, Charaideo, Dibrugarh and Tinuskia districts in Upper Assam are the ones to have received these notices.
There are also reports of top ULFA(I) leaders making phone calls to some of the traders and demanding funds.
Many traders have also apprised the police about the notices that they have received by the insurgent outfit.
Recently, insurgent group Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA)/Dimasa People's Supreme Council (DPSC) and the Assam government, in a significant milestone towards making the Northeast insurgency-free by 2024, signed tripartite Memorandum of Settlement in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Expressing optimism, CM Sarma said that talks are ongoing with the ULFA-(I) and the government has provided a draft but the matter may be postponed if the draft is not accepted. He hopes that the peace agreement will be signed by the end of May.
The pro-talks faction of ULFA has acknowledged receipt of the latest draft from the government but has expressed a need for further discussion. The government has been in sporadic discussions with the pro-talks faction for over a decade, with little progress in a positive direction. However, discussions with the ULFA (I) faction are not facilitating peace talks, according to the chief minister.
The pro-talks ULFA faction has expressed doubts about the government's sincerity in taking the peace talks forward, alleging that no dialogue has occurred in the last two years, and there is no government interlocutor to take the process forward.