DARJEELING, India, July 10, Reuter: Leaders of a Gurkha struggle for a separate state in northeast India on Sunday empowered the head of the GorKha National Liberation Front to finalize a peace agreement and end their two year fight.

GNLF President Subhas Ghising denied a report by the Press Trust of India that a meeting of 150 GNLF leaders had placed conditions on a compromise peace formula worked out in New Delhi ‘on June 29,

Those talks moved the GNLF significantly closer to agreement with the Communist government of West Bengal state, which rules the Darjeeling hills, where the Nepali speaking Gurkhas want their own state.

The two year GNLF struggle has cost over 350 lives and severely damaged the economy of the lush Darjeeling Hills, which depend on tea, tourism and timber.

West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, who refused to consider Gurkha State, had offered an autonomous hill council, Ghising told reporters.

“I have been given the mandate of our people to accept or reject the autonomous elected hill council proposal.” Ghising said after Sunday’s meeting.

Ghising said he would contact Indian Home Minister Buta Singh on Monday to arrange further talks with Basu to thrash out the last details of a peace pact.

“I am hopeful that things will work out better this time and we will have an agreement”, he said.

Previous peace talks broke down in January, when Basu offered a semiautonomous hill council that would not include Gurkhaland in its title as the GNLF had insisted.

Ghising said he was still insisting on a Gurkhaland hill council, which would also rule parts of adjacent plains, and that he was optimistic Basu would agree to the demands.

Ghising said a final compromise was also dependent on the hill council winning certain powers, which he refused to spell out.

“We have temporarily withdrawn the agitation for a separate state. There will be no more public meetings or fund collections until a settlement is reached in Delhi,” he added.

The GNLF campaign since January has featured several pitched battles between its militants, many of them former soldiers in the Indian army, and paramilitary security forces.

In the New Delhi talks, Ghising agreed to call a halt to the violence in return for the withdrawal of paramilitary forces from the Darjeeling hills, an end to police raids and the release of GNLF detainees.

Some militants are ignoring Ghising’s call for a halt to violence, fifteen people have been beheaded since militants announced two months ago they would decapitate traitors.

Known militants were present at Sunday’s meeting, which gave Ghising the power to reach a final settlement, raising hopes of an end to the violence.

Article extracted from this publication >> July 15, 1988