M A I N   N E W S

PM invites ULFA for talks
Dismisses Musharraf’s remarks

Imphal/Guwahati, November 21
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today invited ULFA in Assam as also other insurgent groups in northeastern states to shun violence and hold open talks. He said Myanmar and Bangladesh have assured that their soil would not be used for anti-India operations.

Addressing a press conference at Imphal at the end of his two-day visit to trouble-torn Manipur, he said there had been overtures from ULFA about talks and “this is an open invitation to all those young men and women who have taken to arms to give up this path and work with us to bring about peace and prosperity in all northeastern states”.

“Our government is willing to talk to any group that shuns the path of violence and seeks peaceful resolution of all outstanding problems,” he said.

Reacting coolly to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s fulmination on Kashmir, the Prime Minister dismissed the General’s remarks that India was not showing flexibility in resolving outstanding issues.

“On the basis of stray words, we cannot say that there is no flexibility. On both sides we should move forward with sincerity”, he told reporters, who sought his reaction on Musharraf’s statement yesterday that India should show flexibility in resolving problems and that troops reduction in Kashmir was a cosmetic move.

The Prime Minister said India was very serious about the composite dialogue and wanted it to progress and “progress well”.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz would come to Delhi shortly and “we will have fruitful discussions. I am confident that we can solve all outstanding issues and problems through purposeful negotiations.”

The Prime Minister indicated that he had no immediate plans to reshuffle his Council of Ministers.

“You will hear about it when it takes place,” he told reporters when asked whether he planned to reshuffle his ministry.

The question came in the wake of speculation that Mr Manmohan Singh might undertake the exercise before the winter session of Parliament, beginning on December 1, to fill the vacancies created by the resignation of JMM leader Sibu Soren and the election of Mr K. Rehman Khan as Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman.

Later, speaking at a rally in Dispur, he struck a personal note by pointing out that he was a Prime Minister from Assam, an obvious reference to his being Rajya Sabha member from the state. He appealed to the youth of the state not to resort to guns and urged them to come forward for talks.

“I appeal to the youth of Assam that you don’t have to resort to the gun to achieve your objectives because you have a Prime Minister from Assam. Come, join me and help me ignite a new chapter in the long and tortuous history of this beautiful state,” he said.

Asked about the help the insurgents receive from across the border in Myanmar, he said Myanmar President Gen Than Shwe had recently visited India and assured that his country’s territory would not be allowed to be used for insurgency directed against India.

To a question about the presence of insurgent camps in Bangladesh, he said he had himself taken up the matter with Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and hoped Dhaka would respond constructively to New Delhi’s concerns.

“While geography has made us neighbours, history wants us to be good neighbours,” he asserted.

Asked about the demand for withdrawal of controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act from Manipur, he expressed the hope that a “humane” law that protects national security and human rights of the people of Manipur would be in place after the review of the law.

A high-powered committee, headed by a former Supreme Court Judge Jeevan Reddy, has been set up to review the AFSPA, to see its weaknesses and, if necessary, replace it with a “humane” Act, he said.

Meanwhile, Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for agreeing to sanction an economic package amounting to Rs 2777.68 crore.

The Chief Minister also thanked the Prime Minister for gracing the handing over ceremony of the historic Kangla Fort, for laying the foundation stone for Jiribam-Tupul railway line and announcing the upgrading of Manipur University to a Central University.

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