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Attack no hurdle to Naga peace talks but geography remains tricky as ever

Sources say Muivah now appears willing to consider options floated by the Indian government, including more autonomy for the Naga hill districts of Manipur.

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: June 11, 2015 6:27:38 am
Naga peace talks, NSCN-IM, govt naga peace talks, NSCN-K, NSCN-IM, Indian government, Nagaland, Khaplang group, Naga civil society, india news, nation news Muivah with then home minister P Chaidambaram in New Delhi, 2010. (Source: AP photo)

The NSCN-K’s ambush on 6 Dogra Regiment is not expected to pose any hurdle to the Naga peace talks but the geographical demands of the NSCN-IM, the primary faction, remain tricky as ever. The talks between the NSCN-IM and the Indian government, Nagaland officials feel, are not only on track but have picked up pace since the current central government came to power.

“There have been more meetings than earlier. The feeling in Nagaland is of optimism after failed negotiations over 16 years,’’ says a Nagaland government official.

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Even if Thuingaleng Muivah, the ‘M’ in NSCN-IM, should be willing to make concessions to his vision of a “Greater Nagalim”, the sources say, accommodating a whittled-down demand would still necessitate taking other states on board. For Muivah and his comrade Isak Chishi Swu, “Greater Nagalim” should include not only the existing state of Nagaland but also parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh as well as Naga-dominated areas of Myanmar.

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Sources say Muivah now appears willing to consider options floated by the Indian government, including more autonomy for the Naga hill districts of Manipur with a financial arrangement directly between the Centre and the autonomous district council and without involving the Manipur government. Another option is a “cultural Naga suprabody’’ identifying the Nagas as one people with a common law across states.

“It will be tricky as the Centre gets closer to a final settlement,” says a Nagaland government source. “While the main process is being undertaken with the NSCN-IM, the Khaplang and other Naga groups as well as Naga civil society in different states will have to be taken on board to ensure peace holds.”

The Indian government had ceasefire arrangements with both factions but NSCN-K has abrogated the agreement. The agreement with NSCN-IM came in 1997; S S Khaplang’s rival NSCN-K kept out initially. “The fact that the Khaplang faction is a Myanmar-based group was a complication and the Indian government thought it best to deal only with I-M, which is the stronger group on the Indian side and has wider support,’’ says a Nagaland official.

In 2001, Khaplang did agree to a ceasefire with the Indian government, until he abrogated it. In NSCN-K’s bases in Myanmar’s Sagaing and Kachin districts, its camps have been known to shelter insurgent groups such as UNLF, KYKL, PLA, KCP and PREPAK. It was only in 2012 that NSCN-K struck an informal agreement with the Myanmar government, with the latter seen as giving the insurgent group a near-free run over these areas.

Khaplang has continued to provide shelter and logistical support to other banned groups. A government official says, “The issue has been that both groups started running extensive extortion rackets in Nagaland. There was nothing Indian forces could do as the groups were protected by the ceasefire.”

In 2001, NSCN-IM signed an agreement with the government extending the ceasefire to all Naga areas “without territorial limits’’. After protests in Manipur with the state government saying its territorial integrity had been compromised, these three words were removed.

It is Manipur that remains a primary roadblock before an acceptable solution. For Muivah, a Tangkhul Naga hailing from Manipur’s Ukhrul district, the inclusion of Naga areas of Manipur is a minimum criterion for reaching a solution.

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