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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 16:13 GMT
India's Naga rebel ban ends
Naga rebels on the Assam-Nagaland border
The rebels have fought for a homeland for 50 years

The Indian Government has decided not to renew a ban on a powerful separatist group in the country's north-east.


This is an important confidence-building gesture and we in the NSCN appreciate it

Phungting Shimray,
Naga rebel
The move is being seen as a major breakthrough in negotiations aimed at ending a largely forgotten but bloody bush war.

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) has been fighting for a separate homeland for more than 50 years.

The decision paves the way for the two leaders of the NSCN, Issac Chisi Swu and TH Muivah, to hold peace negotiations with the central government in India rather than in a third country.

"If all goes well, both these leaders should be in India next month," said an intelligence official, who was not willing to be named.

Peace hurdles

"We welcome this move. This is an important confidence-building gesture and we in the NSCN appreciate it," said self-styled Colonel Phungting Shimray, reacting to the Indian Government's decision.

Map showing Nagaland and Manipur
Mr Shimray is the most senior NSCN leader in a committee that monitors the ceasefire between the Indian security forces and the rebel group.

The ceasefire has held for five years, despite occasional tension and mistrust.

And if the NSCN leaders do finally come to India, it will be a big step forward.

So far, however, the two leaders have been tight-lipped about whether they will hold talks in India because they are still bargaining to get cases against other NSCN guerrillas dropped.

There are also concerns about what path the breakaway NSCN faction led by Burmese Naga rebel leader SS Khaplang will take.

Naga human rights campaigner Artex Shimray says it will not be easy to derail peace efforts.

"The Nagas want peace after 50 years of bloodshed. This peace process can only fall through if Delhi wants that to happen," he says.

But the NSCN remains apprehensive.

Mistrust

They say Nagaland Chief Minister SC Jamir wants to discredit the NSCN.

"He is manipulating the Khaplang faction because he is afraid of losing the state assembly elections due in February," says the NSCN's publicity secretary, S Hungshi.

NSCN General Secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah
Naga leaders are expected to travel to Delhi for talks
Mr Jamir dismisses the charges as "bogus" and says the NSCN will back a large number of independents and a section of dissident members of the Congress party to form a government by proxy.

"The NSCN is still raising funds through extortion," says Mr Jamir.

"They refuse to stay in designated camps and that's a violation of the ceasefire agreement."

The Indian army says it is trying to get the rebels back into the camps.

But the rebels are reluctant.

"We have lived in camps for nearly two decades," said Robin Tangkhul, an NSCN sergeant.

"The ceasefire gives us some freedom and we love it."

Sovereignty

The Nagas feel it is their right to have a homeland that includes all Naga-inhabited areas, especially Nagas who live outside Nagaland.

Female Naga rebels
The conflict has become a way of life for some rebels
But people in other states see that as "Naga expansionism".

But if the NSCN gives up both the demands - sovereignty and Greater Nagaland - the NSCN will be left with a weak bargaining position.

And it would have very little to show for its long struggle.

After 50 years of fighting, the Nagas want peace.

India, which has a volatile Kashmir to deal with, also needs peace in the north-east.

Lifting the ban on the NSCN may encourage other lesser rebel groups to head for the table.

And if that's what Delhi wants, it will have to ensure the rebel leaders Muivah and Swu come to India and carry forward the talks.

See also:

13 Jul 02 | South Asia
22 Jun 02 | South Asia
27 May 02 | South Asia
26 Mar 02 | South Asia
19 Mar 02 | South Asia
17 Mar 02 | South Asia
19 Jun 01 | South Asia
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