Oct 22, 2004

Naga Leaders in India for Peace Talks

Naga Representatives Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah have accepted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's invitation to pursue peace talks in India
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GUWAHATI, India (AFP) - Two self-exiled leaders of India's oldest insurgency will return home to the northeast in search of a final peace deal with New Delhi, a rebel spokesman said.
The announcement of the leaders' plans to come back in November followed two days of talks in Bangkok with Indian government representatives.

Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), have accepted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's invitation to pursue the discussions and are due back in late November, said Kraibo Chawang, spokesman for the Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN.

"The talks are moving along the right track and we're in a positive frame of mind," Chawang said on Sunday.

The insurgents want a homeland for the Naga tribespeople who number around three million. Most dwell in Nagaland but others live in neighbouring states in the northeast.

The NSCN leaders, who have lived in various Asian cities, were expected to arrive in New Delhi in late November and travel home to celebrate Christmas in Nagaland, where most of the two million people are Christian.

"This will be an extraordinary Christmas if our two leaders are here," said Chawang.

More than 25,000 people have been killed in the rebellion -- the country's longest-running insurgency -- since it was launched when India became independent from Britain in 1947.

The NSCN entered a ceasefire with New Delhi in 1997 and the two sides have held many rounds of talks in European and Asian cities.

"Everybody here craves peace and an end to the years of bloodshed and we hope a permanent solution is reached soon," said local businessman A. Angami.

The two NSCN leaders visited India in January 2003 after 37 years in self-imposed exile and met then-prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. But peace efforts collapsed after New Delhi rejected the insurgents' call for Naga-majority areas in the northeast to be folded into a "Greater Nagaland".

The NSCN wants the creation of a Greater Nagaland by carving slices off neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur which all have sizeable Naga populations. The demand has been rejected by the other states.