The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rebel tag taken off before Naga talks

Nov. 26: The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) has become a legitimate organisation with the Centre allowing the ban on the separatist outfit, imposed in 1990, to lapse. The NSCN (I-M) had been declared an outlawed outfit during Chandra Shekhar’s brief tenure as Prime Minister.

The Centre’s decision has paved the way for the return of the main NSCN (I-M) leaders, Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu, to the country for the next round of talks with the government.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy, L.K. Advani, will meet the two Naga leaders in New Delhi in the middle of next month.

The general rule is for the Prime Minister to participate only in the last round of such negotiations, but the NSCN (I-M) insisted on his involvement, possibly to lend credibility to the process. Diverting from the normal mode, the Prime Minister and his deputy have agreed to participate in the first round of talks itself, a senior official said in the capital.

However, he said neither Vajpayee nor Advani could be expected to be present throughout the negotiations.

While Delhi is upbeat about the prospects of the impending dialogue bearing fruit, Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir fears “open interference” by the NSCN (I-M) in the Assembly polls.

Jamir said over phone from Kohima that the Centre’s decision to lift the ban on the NSCN (I-M) could embolden it to meddle in the elections. “That will be a factor, but we will fight it politically,” he said.

Former chief minister K.L. Chishi, too, did not rule out the possibility of the outfit backing some candidates.

However, the NSCN (I-M) said it would not campaign for any candidate or participate in the election in any other way. “Participating, directly or indirectly, in Indian elections is not our objective,” the convenor of the outfit’s ceasefire monitoring cell, Pungthing Shimrang, said.

The advocate-general of Nagaland, P. Borthakur, confirmed that the NSCN (I-M) was now legally free to campaign for election candidates of its choice.

Security officials said the Centre’s decision to lift the ban on the NSCN (I-M) would have no bearing on operations against those NSCN (I-M) who violate the ground rules of the ceasefire in Nagaland.

“We will be strict in implementing the ground rules as, despite our ultimatum to both the NSCN (I-M) and the Khaplang faction, their members have been found moving about with arms in civilian areas,” Brig. N.C. Marwah, inspector-general (south range) of the Assam Rifles, said.

Activists of both outfits had been asked to move into their camps by November 20.

Brig. Marwah said the Centre’s decision to let the ban on the NSCN (I-M) lapse was nothing more than a symbolic gesture. “The Centre has merely cleared the decks for a visit to India by the NSCN (I-M) leadership.”

Shimrang agreed that it was imperative for both sides to remain committed to the task of restoring peace. “Ban or no ban, we will have to adhere to the ground rules of the ceasefire. But if our security is threatened, we will take steps in self-defence,” he said.

Kukis in Manipur, who had been opposing the move to withdraw the criminal cases pending against the NSCN (I-M) leadership, expressed anguish over the Centre’s decision to accord legitimacy to the outfit.

In a letter to chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, the Kuki Inpi, Manipur, said the NDA government’s decision not to renew the ban was a travesty of justice. It pointed out that over 800 Kukis had been killed by the NSCN (I-M) in Manipur and Nagaland between 1992 and 1995.

Ibobi Singh has said that his government would not withdraw the cases against the NSCN (I-M).

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