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Indo-Naga Peace Talks Resumed Amidst Tensions in Manipur

July 28 2014

In 1997, after over four decades of war between the Indian armed forces and Naga resistance groups asserting their right to self-determination, a cease fire agreement was signed between the Indian government and the largest of the armed Naga groups, the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM). The agreement has since been renewed several times, but the more than 80 rounds of peace talk have not had any concrete outcome and during the past two years the peace talks have been stalled altogether.

Peace talks resumed
On July 16, the newly formed government under the Hindu nationalist BJP resumed peace talks with the NSCN-IM. Ajit Lat, who is representing the Indian government, declared in a statement that even if there are difficulties, he is hopeful that the gap can be bridged and an early solution found. NSCN-IM secretary general Thuingaleng Muivah likewise expressed optimism by pointing out that the basis for an agreement has been laid and that both sides agreed to embark on the peace process with earnest commitment. 

In an interview with the North-East Sun shortly before the recent national election that brought BJP back to power, NSCN-IM leaders Muivah and Isak blamed the former United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Manmohan Singh for indecisiveness and thus of the lack of progress in the negotiations over the past two years. They pointed out that a milestone in the past negotiations was the recognition of the uniqueness of Naga history and situation by the BJP-led government in 2002, reiterated in a joint statement by the UPA government’s interlocutor R.S. Panday and Th. Muivah in July 2011 and even by former prime Minister Manmohan Singh. According to Muivah, it is due to the lack of decisive leadership no breakthrough and a lasting solution was achieved during the past 10 years of UPA government. Based on past experiences, he believes that the BJP government will try to understand them better and do what they can.

Assassination causes tension
The peace talks were resumed amidst tension in Ukhrul District of Manipur state following the assassination of Ngalangzar Malue, member and former Vice-Chairman of the Ukhrul Autonomous District Council. The Manipur government blamed NSCN-IM for the assassination and responded by deploying over 600 armed security forces comprising the Indian Reserve Batalion and the notorious police Commandos to Ukhrul town. The office of NSCN-IM was raided and eight people detained and brought to the state capital Imphal. NSCN-IM has denied any involvement in the murder of Ngalangzar Malue and nobody has so far claimed responsibility.

The Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) issued a press release condemning the assassination as well as the Manpur government’s response by militarizing Ukhrul town. All over town the public has written graffiti on walls and put up posters demanding the withdrawal of the security forces. The demand is supported by Naga civil society organizations such as NPMHR, the Naga Women Union, the Naga Students Federation, as well as the traditional Tangkhul tribal council Tangkhul Naga Long, the state-wide United Naga Council and the all-Naga tribal council Naga Hoho.

Controversial statement over cease fire extension
Adding to the tension in the Naga areas of Manipur was a statement by the chairman of the Indian government’s Cease Fire Monitoring Group, retired Ltnd. Gen. N.K. Singh in which he declared that Manipur’s Ukhrul district does not fall under his jurisdiction. His statement contradicts the cease fire agreement of June 14, 2001, according to which the cease fire is between the government of India and NSCN-IM without territorial limits. Soon afterward, on July 21, Manipur state government’s Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister Gaikhangam also stated that the cease fire was not extended to Manipur, a claim that was heavily criticized by Naga political and civil society organizations.

NSCN Khaplang faction critical of peace talks
Doubt that a lasting solution for the Nagas will be found soon is also cast by the renewed declaration of the rival faction of NSCN under the leadership of S.S. Khaplang (NSCN-K) on July 18 that it will never accept the outcome of the peace talks between the government of India and NSCN-IM. NSCN-K does not consider the ongoing peace talks as ‘Naga talks’ but only “NSCN-IM talks’. There are no formal dialogues between NSCN-K and the government of India, but the faction declared that if any formal dialogues will take place it intends to involve Naga civil society organizations, churches, intellectuals and all Naga underground groups.

NSCN-K has also confirmed earlier statements that it intends to form a common front for all militant groups in Northeast India. Senior NSCN-K leader Wangting Naga told the press that the process of forming the front is underway because of the discrimination of the people in the Northeast, that all seven states of Northeast India face common issues and should unite to solve them.

Sources: 
Hueiyen Lanpao July 18, 19, 20, 2014, www.hueiyenlanpao.com
Northeast Sun Vol. XIX, No. 6, June 16-30, July 1-15, 2014
The Morung Express Vol. IX, July 23, 2014, www.morungexpress.com
The Sangai Express July 22, 2014, www.thesangaiexpress.com