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Last Updated: Monday, 4 October, 2004, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Q&A: India's violent north-east
A wave of violence in the north-eastern Indian states of Assam and Nagaland has again highlighted the tensions and fissures in this part of the country. News Online looks at why there is so much violence in north-eastern India.

Why is north-eastern India so restive?

Before the British, none of the previous empires in India had managed to control the remote north-eastern areas.

So the region had enjoyed a long history of independence. There are also sharp differences in culture and tradition with the rest of the country.

Separatists in Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Assam have tapped into these differences and been able to challenge the control of the Indian state.

The central government has used military force to quell these rebellions, which in turn has often provoked more violence.

Recent years have seen the growth of conflicting demands for independent homelands between various ethnic groups in the region, which have also resulted in much bloodshed.

How serious is the violence?

Very - particularly the violence between the various ethnic militias of the region, into which innocent villagers and non-combatants have often been drawn.

Violence unleashed by ethnic rebel armies against the settlers from outside the region has also assumed serious proportions.

How is the central government trying to end the violence?

It uses military force to try to contain the rebels and weaken them.

Naga rebels
Naga rebels want independence from India

But Indian military commanders admit that only political solutions can resolve the many conflicts.

The Indian government has opened dialogues with many of these groups and correspondents say its attitude is more flexible than in the past.

Its basic position is that the various rebel groups have to accept Indian sovereignty over the region and give up violence.

The central government also pumps in a lot of federal funds to promote economic development that is seen as crucial to win the hearts and minds of the locals.

But local people complain that lot of these funds are pilfered by a corrupt local elite in collusion with unscrupulous contractors and businessmen resulting in a lack of development.

Are the conflicts restricted to Indian territory?

They are largely restricted to Indian territory but rebels from north-eastern India have ethnic cousins across the borders in Burma, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

They find shelter in those countries, particularly in the remote border hill regions.

Are there any beacons of hope?

The peace settlement in Mizoram, signed in 1986 between the Indian Government and the Mizo National Front, has held good and the once-troubled state is largely peaceful.

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), the strongest rebel group of Nagaland and perhaps in the whole region, has also been negotiating with the central government for six years now.

Civil society groups in the region are more active than ever before. They are playing a leading role in initiating dialogues and sustaining the peace process.

After 50 years of bloody guerrilla campaigns, many civilians are tired and desperate for peace.

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