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NSCN kidnaps 15 Cong supporters

"Isak-Muivah faction of NSCN have abducted the Congress supporters from two places since Saturday night," Nagaland police chief Heso Mao told IANS.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2003 13:30 IST

A powerful separatist group kidnapped 15 supporters of the ruling Congress party ahead of assembly elections in the northeastern state of Nagaland, officials said on Monday.

"The Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) have abducted the 15 from two places since Saturday night," Nagaland police chief Heso Mao told IANS by telephone from the state capital Kohima.

"The army and paramilitary soldiers have launched a massive hunt to rescue the group," he added. Nagaland is among four states going to the polls Wednesday.

The police chief said armed militants of the NSCN were moving in several remote areas of the state and terrorizing voters to support candidates backed by the outfit.

"The NSCN (Isak-Muivah) cadres are reportedly asking voters not to support the Congress candidates," Mao said.

The NSCN, fighting for an independent tribal homeland, is operating a ceasefire with the central government since 1997.

NSCN leaders Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah were in New Delhi last month for peace talks to bring an end to more than five decades of violent insurgency in this mountainous region.

"We need the support of the people and want they should inform the police about any threats. But then people don't report such incidents, and so we are slightly handicapped," the police chief said.

"In certain places, cadres of the rival NSCN group led by SS Khaplang are also involved in backing candidates of their choice."

The official said NSCN (Isak-Muivah) cadres have forcibly commandeered a number of vehicles belonging to Congress members and supporters in the state.

"We have adequate security forces available but the incidents are taking place in isolated places and at odd hours," Mao said. "It is not physically possible to guard every inch of the state."

NSCN leaders Isak and Swu had earlier said they would not interfere in the elections - either directly or indirectly.

The Congress has accused the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) of openly supporting candidates put up by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National People's Front (NPF), a regional political party.

"The BJP and NPF are being supported openly by NSCN and they want the win the polls with the help of guns. But people in Nagaland cannot be taken for a ride," Nagaland Chief Minister and Congress leader SC Jamir told IANS by telephone.

"It is a democracy and people would not be cowed down by such threats." Elections in Nagaland have always been overshadowed by militancy, with underground groups siding with political parties.

"Elections in Nagaland are reduced to total farce with militants controlling the campaigning process," said a college teacher from Kohima. Around 25,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency in Nagaland since India's independence in 1947.

First Published: Feb 24, 2003 12:14 IST