Naga talks in Bangkok today
Peace negotiators from New Delhi are beginning fresh talks in Bangkok on Saturday with a frontline Naga separatist group to save a nine-year-old ceasefire from breaking down, officials said.
The talks with top leaders of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), the main rebel group in the northeastern state of Nagaland, were earlier due to begin on Friday but were deferred by a day.
Central Minister Oscar Fernandes and New Delhi's main peace interlocutor K Padmanabhaiah will meet top leaders of the Isak-Muivah faction in Bangkok.
"The two-day talks will primarily focus on the question of extending the ceasefire and also discussing other major demands," said a home ministry official, requesting anonymity.
"We are confident of the two sides agreeing to extend the ceasefire as the people of Nagaland want peace and a permanent solution to the problem." The last ceasefire extension expires on July 31.
The NSCN-IM, led by guerrilla leaders Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, last week threatened not to extend their ceasefire accusing the Indian Army of supplying weapons to a rival rebel outfit to provoke a "fratricidal war".
"The question of extending the ceasefire depends on the outcome of the talks. Nothing can be said at this moment," RH Raising, senior NSCN-IM leader said.
The rebel leadership is expected to seek a clarification from New Delhi on their charges of arming the rival National Socialist Council of Nagaland faction led by SS Khaplang.
The NSCN-IM had accused security forces of seizing weapons from its cadres and then supplying such arms to the rival group. The army denies the allegations.
"The question of ceasefire extension now depends on the response to our charges by the government in the Bangkok talks. We have also sought several modifications of the ceasefire ground rules," another NSCN-IM leader said.
The rebel leader refused to give details of the changes sought in the truce ground rules. The original Nagaland rebel group split in 1988 into two factions.
The NSCN (Khaplang) struck a ceasefire with the government in 2001 although no formal peace talks have yet been held.
The two sides regularly clash for territorial supremacy. At least 200 members of both outfits have been killed in turf battles in the past five years.
The main group led by Muivah and Swu is seeking a "Greater Nagaland" that would unite 1.2 million Nagas, a demand strongly opposed by the neighbouring states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
The other group is seeking an independent tribal homeland.
India and the NSCN-IM have held at least 50 rounds of peace talks in the past nine years to end one of the longest-running insurgencies that have claimed around 25,000 lives since the country's independence in 1947.