Two warring tribal separatist groups in Nagaland are close to a historic reunification, ending decades of a violent fratricidal gang war in the region, said rebel leaders.
The two National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) groups, one led by guerrilla leaders Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah (NSCN-IM), and the other faction headed by SS Khaplang (NSCN-K), have been engaged in a bitter turf war for territorial supremacy with an estimated 500 cadres killed in the past four years.
The two factions are also operating a ceasefire with New Delhi - the NSCN-IM is currently holding talks with the Indian government after entering into a truce in 1997.
The Khaplang faction of the NSCN is yet to begin formal peace talks although it entered into a ceasefire in 2001.
The peace attempt is being brokered by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation, the apex body of various civil society and rights groups in Nagaland, backed by the powerful Baptist Church in the state. Helping the Forum in its efforts are conflict resolution experts from the Britain-based Religious Society of Friends, whose members are commonly known as Quakers, besides some members from the American Baptist Church.
"We are ready for peace and trying our level best if at all they (NSCN-K) want reconciliation," RH Raising, a senior NSCN-IM leader, told IANS.
"The process may take time, but we are positive."
The NSCN had split into two factions in 1988 following ideological differences and since then were waging a violent turf war in the region.
"We had several rounds of meetings in South Asian cities with leaders of the two NSCN groups and now we held the first such reconciliation meet in Dimapur (Nagaland's commercial hub) on Tuesday where 21 members from the two sides met," said Reverend Wati Aiyer, leader of the Forum.
"The talks were positive and we hope the two factions would reconcile soon."
Said Hokato Sumi, a senior NSCN-K leader, "We welcome any move by any NGO or church bodies for peace. The meeting was very positive."
Several attempts made by different church groups in Nagaland have failed to unite the two rival factions.
"Unless there is some understanding and points of acceptance, the future of peace dawning in the state is remote. We have been trying hard and still continuing with our efforts," said Reverend Zhabu Theruza, leader of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council.
Nagaland, where more than 25,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency since India's independence from Britain in 1947, is a majority Christian state of two million people.