India rejects Naga rebels’ key demand

Agence France Presse

Guwahati, February 2:

India has rejected a key demand by northeastern separatist rebels, days before talks aimed at ending the country’s longest-running insurgency are due to start.

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) wants the merger of all northeastern areas inhabited by the Naga people, to create a homeland.

“Our stand on maintaining the territorial integrity of all states has been made

in black and white in our Common Minimum (policy) Programme,” federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil told journalists in Assam’s main city of Guwahati late yesterday. “If any alteration has to be made, it has to be done with the concurrence of the states and their people.”

Indian negotiators and NSCN leaders are due to meet in New Delhi later this week to try to end violence that has claimed more than 25,000 lives since 1947.

The NSCN reacted sharply to Patil’s statement. “There can be no compromise at all on the issue of integrating all Naga-inhabited areas in the region. Such comment made on the eve of the scheduled talks is very unfortunate and does not augur well for taking forward the peace process,” said NSCN senior leader VS Atem. “Nobody can keep the Nagas divided arbitrarily and any attempts at not conceding our demand will not be acceptable to us,” he said today.

NSCN leaders Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu are in India at the invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for peace talks, after operating from South Asian cities for the past 37 years.

The two arrived in India in December and held an informal meeting with Singh before visiting Nagaland, which borders Myanmar, for Christmas. The NSCN is the oldest and the most powerful of around 30 rebel groups in the region. It wants the creation of a “Greater Nagaland” by merging parts of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh states — which have sizeable Naga populations — with Nagaland. An estimated three million Naga tribespeople live in the region of whom about two million are in Nagaland itself.

The states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur oppose ceding parts of their territory to create a “Greater Nagaland.”