The sudden decision by two top self-exiled Naga separatist leaders to visit India for peace talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has surprised people in Nagaland.
Guerrilla leader and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah arrives in New Delhi from Amsterdam on Wednesday, while the outfit's chairperson Isak Chishi Swu is expected to reach after Christmas.
The two tribal separatist leaders would be visiting India at the invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for holding direct talks to end one of South Asia's longest-running insurgencies.
"Everone here is surprised after we came to know about the visit by the two NSCN-IM leaders. But we believe something positive had happened and so the Indian government had invited the two leaders for direct talks in New Delhi," N Krome, general secretary of Naga Hoho, the apex tribal council in Nagaland, said.
The itinerary for talks with the guerrilla leaders is yet to be finalised.
"The two leaders would probably be visiting Nagaland shortly to give their feedback about the progress of the talks and also for consultation about the future course of action," Kraibo Chawang, a senior leader of the NSCN-IM, said over the phone from New Delhi.
This would only be the second time in 39 years that the NSCN-IM would be holding peace talks on Indian soil. In 2004, Muivah and Swu held talks with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi.
"The mood is upbeat after we heard the news of the two NSCN-IM leaders coming for talks with the prime minister," Reverend Zhabu Theruza, general secretary of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), said.
The church in Nagaland has for long been trying to broker peace between rival rebel groups engaged in fratricidal killings and facilitating talks between the guerrillas and the government.
"We welcome any move that helps in bringing peace and at the same time would like to ask the Nagas for reconciliation to stop killing one another. Peace talks and the process of reconciliation must go simultaneously for Nagaland to have permanent peace," Reverend Kari Longchar, chairperson of NBCC's Peace Committee, said.
The NSCN is split into two factions with Swu and Muivah heading one group and another guerrilla leader SS Khaplang leading the rival faction known as the NSCN-K.
The two warring factions are engaged in a bitter turf war for territorial supremacy with at least 200 cadres killed during the past five years. The NSCN-K is also operating a ceasefire with New Delhi since 2001 although formal peace talks are yet to begin.