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India begins fresh talks with N-E separatists

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Guwahati, India, July 29, IRNA
India-Northeast-Peace Talks
Indian peace negotiators are beginning fresh talks Saturday with a frontline separatist group of the northeast in Bangkok to save a nine-year-old ceasefire from breaking down, officials said.

The talks were to begin Friday, but was deferred by a day.

Federal minister Oscar Fernandes and New Delhi's main peace interlocutor K. Padmanabhaiah will be meeting top leaders of the Isak- Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland(NSCN-IM), the main rebel group in Nagaland state.

The venue of the talks in Bangkok is not disclosed.

"The two-day talks will primarily focus on the question of extending the ceasefire and also discussing other major demands," an Indian Home Ministry official said requesting anonymity.

"We are confident of the two sides agreeing to extend the ceasefire as the people of Nagaland want peace and a permanent solution to the problem."
The latest ceasefire expires July 31.

The NSCN-IM, led by guerrilla leaders Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, last week threatened not to extend their ceasefire, accusing the army of supplying weapons to a rival rebel outfit to provoke a 'fratricidal war'.

"The question of extending the ceasefire depends on the outcome of the talks. Nothing can be said at this moment," R.H. Raising, a senior NSCN-IM leader said by telephone from Nagaland.

The rebel leadership is expected to seek a clarification from the government on their charges of arming the rival National Socialist Council of Nagaland faction led by S.S. Khaplang.

The NSCN-IM had accused security forces of seizing weapons from its cadres and then supplying such arms to their rival group. The army denies the allegations.

"The question of ceasefire extension now depends on the response to our charges by the government in the Bangkok talks. We have also sought several modifications of the ceasefire ground rules," another NSCN-IM leader said.

The rebel leader refused to give details of the changes sought in the truce ground rules.

The original Nagaland rebel group split in 1988 into two factions.

The NSCN (Khaplang) struck a ceasefire with the government in 2001 although no formal peace talks have yet been held.

The two sides regularly clash for territorial supremacy. At least 200 members of both outfits have been killed in turf battles in the past five years.

The main group led by Muivah and Swu is seeking a 'Greater Nagaland' that would unite 1.2 million Nagas, a demand strongly opposed by neighboring Indian states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. The other group is seeking an independent tribal homeland.

India and the NSCN-IM have held at least 50 rounds of peace talks in the past nine years to end one of South Asia's longest-running insurgencies that have claimed around 25,000 lives since the country's independence in 1947.

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