GUWAHATI, India (AFP) – India has offered to hold talks with rebel groups operating in the country’s northeast but rejected demands for independence and any redrawing of state boundaries.
“I appeal to all of you (rebels) to shun the path of violence and hold discussions,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday told reporters in Guwahati, the main city in Assam state.
“You have a prime minister from Assam … to solve your problems,” Singh said referring to his election to the national parliament from Assam.
New Delhi is already holding talks with some rebel groups including representatives of the powerful United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) — one of the most organised militant groups in the region.
The ULFA, founded in 1979, is fighting for an independent homeland. It is one of more than 30 rebel groups in the region whose demands range from greater autonomy to secession.
Singh said New Delhi wanted peace in the region which would spur economic development.
“We want to ensure that Assam develops in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility … It is in this context we had two rounds of talks with the ULFA,” Singh said of talks in New Delhi in September and February.
“If the ULFA want to talk to us they can raise any issue but that does not mean all issues are open for negotiation,” he said of the group’s demand for sovereignty or independence from India.
Singh, who is on a two day visit to Assam to campaign for his Congress Party ahead of provincial polls next week, also appealed to voters to re-elect the Congress provincial government to strengthen the peace process.
“We believe a Congress government at the centre and in the state will provide the best possible atmosphere to find a final solution to this intricate problem. We remain committed” to continuing dialogue with the rebels, Singh said.
On talks with another rebel group, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland, one of the oldest and most powerful in India’s northeast, Singh said it was too early to predict how soon the insurgency would be resolved.
But he rejected the group’s key demand to hive off Naga dominated areas of three other states in the northeast for the creation of a “Greater Nagaland” to unite around 1.2 million Nagas.
“As far as territorial integrity of various states is concerned no changes can be made in the present status except with the consent of those states.
“We are committed to maintaining the territoral integrity of the states,” Singh said.
Insurgencies in the northeast have claimed about 50,000 lives since 1947.