Dec 22, 2006

Nagalim: Naga rebel leader hopeful of breakthrough

Top Naga rebel leader Thuingaleng Muivah, arrived in India, hopeful of a breakthrough in the Indo-Naga peace negotiations.

Top Naga separatist leader Thuingaleng Muivah, who arrived here late Wednesday from Amsterdam, said he was hopeful of a breakthrough in his group's talks with the government for ending the long-running insurgency in the northeast.

'All I will say is that this time around there is more hope and expectations are high. We are hoping for the best,' Muivah said. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (I-M) leader is in India after a gap of two years at the invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The outfit's chairperson Isak Chishi Swu is expected to reach here after Christmas.

The powerful separatist rebel group has been fighting since 1947 for a separate homeland for the mainly Christian Naga people on the border with Myanmar, in an insurgency which has killed more than 25,000 people.

Both sides have had more than 50 rounds of talks since the group entered into a ceasefire with New Delhi in 1997, but this time around the rebels feel there could be movement forward on their proposal for 'a special federal arrangement' that could accommodate some kind of self-governance for the Nagas.

'We are firm in our demands and there is no going back. We expect the Indian government will respond with sincerity,' said Muivah, who arrived to a rousing reception at the airport, barely days after his group had held a round of discussion with the Group of Ministers led by Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes in Amsterdam.

High-level government sources told IANS that the talks would begin after both leaders visit Nagaland to apprise their constituents of the progress in the talks so far.

The delegation is expected to continue its discussions with government interlocutors over the limits of flexibility within the constitution and whether a 'sub-national constitution' could be accommodated within it.

The two leaders were also expected to visit Nagaland for Christmas celebrations besides addressing the issue of recent clashes between the cadres of NSCN-IM and its rival NSCN (Khaplang), which resulted in the death of several people in the recent past.

The two leaders may also review progress made since the NSCN-IM submitted a 20-point charter of demands to the union government.

In this charter, the NSCN-IM has sought unification of all Naga-inhabited areas of the northeast, an issue opposed by Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, representation at the UN and greater rights over natural resources, finance, defence and policing.