The chief of the United Liberation Front of Asom Arabinda Rajkhowa, his wife and another key militant were on Friday morning handed over to the Indian authorities by Bangladeshi agencies at an outpost along the border in Meghalaya, paving the way for peace talks with the banned militant outfit.
The custody of 53-year-old Rajkhowa along with nine others, including ULFA's military operations deputy chief Raju Barua was given to the Border Security Force at the Dawki outpost in the Jaintia hills district, official sources said.
Along with them were Rajkhowa's wife and two children, his bodyguard Raju Borah, Barua's wife and son, and wife and daughter of ULFA's self-styled foreign secretary Sashadhar Choudhury, they said.
They were later flown to Guwahati where they surrendered before the Assam police, the sources said. They were immediately taken into preventive custody for completion of various legal formalities, the sources said.
Rajkhowa, founder member of the outfit, was detained in Bangladesh recently. He is among four people who founded the separatist outfit on April 7, 1979.
Indications of government opening talks with the ULFA were given by Home Minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday, when he told the Rajya Sabha that the outfit is likely to make a political statement in the next few days.
"The ULFA is in disarray today. In next few days, the ULFA leadership will make a political statement. Our government is prepared to talk to the ULFA, provided they abjure violence and there is no demand for sovereignty," he had said.
The government is moving cautiously in its approach towards talks with the ULFA, given the militant outfit's track record and the group's leaders going back on their promises to take the peace process forward.
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had said in Guwahati on Thursday that his government has received "encouraging signals" from the ULFA for holding peace talks and favoured safe passage to the group's leaders if they came to the negotiating table.
Government is hoping that other top ULFA leaders including the outfit's 'commander-in-chief' Paresh Barua, will also join the dialogue process. Barua, who is believed to be holed up in a Southeast Asian country, has been opposed to the talks process and has been harping on the sovereignty plank.
Rajkhowa, whose real name is Rajib Rajkonwar, is the son of a freedom fighter Umakanta Rajknowar, who died three years ago.
Accused in several cases, including that of waging war against India, Rajkowa has an Interpol Red Corner notice against him. He has been out of India since 1992 and is said to have lived in places including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan.
Two other top ULFA leaders, self-styled Finance Secretary Chitrabon Hazarika and Foreign Secretary Sasha Choudhury had been arrested in Bangladesh in November last and handed over to Assam police in whose custody they are lodged at present.The developments assume significance in view of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India slated later this month and also the signing of three proposed agreements, including an extradition treaty and another on combating international terrorism.