Fresh round of talks with NSCN-IM Tuesday in Nagaland

Dimapur (Nagaland), May 31 (IANS) Government negotiators begin fresh talks Tuesday in Nagaland with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), the state’s dominant separatist group, aimed at ending nearly six decades of insurgency.

New Delhi’s main peace interlocutor R.S. Pandey will meet NSCN-IM leaders in Kohima. This is the first time talks are being held in Nagaland since a ceasefire in August 1997 between the two sides.

‘The talks are expected to discuss wide-ranging issues although we cannot divulge the agenda,’ Pandey told IANS.

The NSCN-IM would be led by general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, while officials from the central home ministry and intelligence agencies are expected to participate in the negotiations.

New Delhi and NSCN-IM have held more than 55 rounds of peace talks in the past 13 years to end one of South Asia’s longest running insurgencies that has killed 25,000 people since 1947.

The NSCN-IM is, however, cynical of the fresh round of talks as they believe the focus of the government emissaries would be to convince Muivah to help end the deadlock in Manipur rather then taking the peace process forward.

‘Any issue involving Nagas of Nagaland, Eastern Nagaland (Myanmar) and other Naga areas (in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) should be left alone. The meeting (Tuesday) should in no way be considered as political talks between the government of India and the Nagas as it is clearly a localized issue revolving around an individual’s visit to his native village in Manipur,’ a statement by the NSCN-IM said.

Manipur is in turmoil since April. First, Naga groups residing in Manipur enforced an indefinite economic blockade protesting the state government’s decision to hold autonomous council elections.

The decision by Muivah to visit his ancestral village in Manipur’s Ukhrul district led to bloody clashes. Three people were killed in police firing May 6.

The Manipur government has banned Muivah’s visit saying it would incite tension.

The deadlock over the issue has led to several Naga groups enforcing an indefinite economic blockade of Manipur. Hundreds of trucks carrying food and essential goods have been stranded in Nagaland as protesters have laid seige to National Highway 39 – the main lifeline to Manipur.

This has triggered a food crisis in Manipur, with the state forced to airlift supplies of even medicines. Hospitals have been compelled to stop routine surgeries due to dearth of oxygen cylinders.

‘No matter the amount of animosity, hatred and bad blood between Manipur government and Nagas of Manipur, emotion should not betray sanity and reason,’ the NSCN-IM statement said, adding that the Meiteis (the majority community in Manipur) and Nagas of Manipur would ‘co-exist for as long as man walks on earth’.

During earlier talks, the NSCN-IM had proposed ‘a special federal arrangement’ to enable the Nagas self-governance but the negotiations ended inconclusively.

‘It was agreed in earlier meetings to explore and discuss our demand for a special federal relationship between India and Nagalim (Greater Nagaland) that allows us self-governance,’ a senior NSCN-IM leader told IANS.

The NSCN-IM has been struggling for nearly six decades to create a ‘Greater Nagaland’ by slicing off parts of three neighbouring states to unite 1.2 million Nagas. The demand is opposed by Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

The rebel leadership blamed New Delhi for failing to meet their demands — even 13 years after the ceasefire.

‘The progress of the talks is very slow. We cannot be patient always as there is a limit to everything though we believe in a political solution to our problem rather than a military one,’ the NSCN-IM leader said.