Hundreds of Nagas offered special prayers on Wednesday for the safe arrival of a top self-exiled separatist leader from Amsterdam to begin peace talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi.
Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), is reaching New Delhi later on Wednesday while the group's chairperson Isak Chishi Swu is expected to reach India after Christmas.
The two leaders would be visiting India at the invitation of Manmohan Singh for direct talks to end one of South Asia's longest running insurgencies spanning about six decades.
"Everybody in Nagaland is praying for peace in Nagaland with all the Baptist churches holding special services," Reverend Zhabu Theruza, general secretary of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) said.
Dates for peace talks would be announced later. The church in Nagaland, a predominantly Christian state of two million people, has for long been trying to broker peace between rival Naga factions engaged in fratricidal killings and facilitating talks between the guerrillas and the government.
"Let us hope the fresh talks help in bringing lasting peace. At the same time we pray for reconciliation between different groups so that the cycle of Nagas killing Nagas is stopped," said Reverend Kari Longchar, chairperson of NBCC's Peace Committee.
This is only the second time in 39 years that NSCN-IM would hold peace talks on Indian soil. In 2004, Muivah and Swu met former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi.
"Each and every Naga is crying for peace and we cannot expect a better Christmas and New Year gift than a breakthrough in the long running insurgency," said Telimeren Ao, a tribal community elder in Nagaland's capital Kohima.
The rebel leadership too is hopeful of a breakthrough after the NSCN-IM and government negotiators held more than 50 rounds of talks since the group entered into a ceasefire with New Delhi in 1997.
"We are hoping for the best. Our two leaders are arriving on a very important political mission at the invitation of the prime minister," Kraibo Chawang, a leader of NSCN-IM, said over telephone from New Delhi.
The NSCN-IM wants a Greater Nagaland by slicing off parts of three neighbouring states to unite 1.2 million Nagas. The demand is strongly opposed by Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
In their talks in Amsterdam in October, the rebels proposed "a special federal arrangement" to enable Nagas self-governance although the negotiations ended inconclusively.
The rebels are seeking a separate Naga constitution under such a relationship. A seven-member team of NSCN-IM rebel leaders is camping in New Delhi to receive Muivah on Wednesday.
The insurgency in Nagaland has claimed around 25,000 lives since the country's independence in 1947.