Govt to begin fresh talks with Naga rebels
Indian peace negotiators are beginning fresh peace talks in New Delhi on Saturday with leaders of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) in the presence of a Dutch mediator.
A group of ministers led by Oscar Fernandes and New Delhi's main peace interlocutor K Padmanabhaiah are meeting top leaders of the NSCN-IM, the main rebel group in Nagaland state.
"We want the government to come up with a response to our demands and help expedite a solution to the longstanding problem. The ceasefire is now on for 10 years and people are getting edgy," a senior NSCN-IM leader said on conditions of anonymity.
The NSCN-IM, led by guerrilla leaders Isak Chishi Swu and T Muivah, had entered into a ceasefire with the Indian government in 1997.
The two sides have since held at least 50 rounds of peace talks aimed at ending one of South Asia's longest running insurgencies that claimed an estimated 25,000 lives since India attained independence in 1947.
The NSCN-IM is one of the oldest and most powerful of about 30 rebel groups in India's northeast and wants to create a "Greater Nagaland" by slicing off parts of neighbouring states that have Naga tribal populations. The three regional governments of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh have already rejected the NSCN-IM's demand for unification of Naga-dominated areas.
"Unification of Naga inhabited areas is our historical right. This is the main bone of contention where the government is dithering," the rebel leader said.
Joining the peace talks will be Michael C Van Walt Van Praag from the Netherlands as a 'third party mediator'.
"Praag would be playing the role of a facilitator or a peace broker and he is expected to submit a list of independent proposals to resolve the problem in the fresh talks," the rebel leader said.
"The proposals may not be acceptable to us or to the Indian government, but his impartial role, we believe could bring in positive results and also help patching up differences between our group and New Delhi," he added.
Praag is currently the Executive President of a Hague-based non-governmental organisation called Kreddha, which works for the prevention and resolution of violent conflicts within existing states. Praag has been unofficially assisting the NSCN-IM and New Delhi in the talks since 2001.
An internationally acclaimed rights campaigner, Praag was earlier the General Secretary of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). The UNPO claims the support of over 100 million people in 52 member countries and works for protecting the human rights of nations, peoples and minorities not represented in international forums such as the UN.
"This would be a very crucial round of talks and could determine which way the peace process moves from here on," another NSCN-IM leader said.