The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Manipur claims Vajpayee shield
- Formal talks with Naga leaders begin

New Delhi, Jan. 21: A Manipur delegation led by chief minister Ibobi Singh today claimed an assurance from the Prime Minister that the state’s boundary would not be affected by the Naga dialogue, hours after formal talks between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) began at an undisclosed location.

“We welcome the Centre’s peace talks with Nagaland but the parleys should not be at the cost of territorial integrity of Manipur. The state will not give a single inch of land as part of the Centre’s agreement with the Nagas,” Singh told reporters after he met Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office were silent whether Vajpayee gave any assurance to the delegation from Manipur.

Senior government sources refused to comment on the Prime Minister’s reported assurance. “We are not saying anything. It is the Manipur chief minister’s words, not ours,” an official said.

It will be difficult for Delhi to make an unequivocal statement either way since the territory issue is expected to figure prominently in the next round of talks tomorrow. The NSCN (I-M) delegation refused to comment on the reported assurance from the Prime Minister.

The Manipur chief minister said tonight that a dialogue with the Nagas is necessary to help accommodate all interests without bifurcating the state.

Speaking on the occasion of Manipur’s 31st statehood day celebrations, Singh said: “Today I would like to share our concern about the possible ramifications of the peace talks going on between the Government of India and a section of the Naga militants. Peace efforts everywhere are of national importance and are welcome but they should not alienate a population that has brought endless laurels to the nation.”

He added that the state is home to 29 tribes which have contributed equally to the development of the state.

The NSCN (I-M) leaders, Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu, had made no bones about their desire to bring all Naga tribes living in the adjoining states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh under a single administrative unit.

The formal discussion with the NSCN (I-M) leaders began around 11 this morning with K. Padmanabhaiah, special emissary for the peace process, heading the Central team. The NSCN (I-M) was represented by both Muivah and Swu.

However, Swu left before lunch. NSCN (I-M) spokesman R.H. Raising, Puni Mao, a member of the outfit’s steering committee, and Azedo Sema, a “minister”, completed the team.

The negotiations broke for lunch, which was supplied at the venue. The post-lunch session lasted till 4 in the afternoon. A joint statement may be issued after tomorrow’s negotiations.

Despite earlier indications that a political negotiator would be appointed before the formal talks were held, Padmanabhaiah and Intelligence Bureau chief K.P. Singh conducted the negotiations. The NSCN (I-M) leaders were eager to have a senior political person conduct the negotiations.

Senior officials said the Centre had picked disinvestment minister Arun Shourie for the job but the choice ran into rough weather because he was not acceptable to the NSCN (I-M) leaders, who made it known they would prefer a heavyweight politician.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, now on a visit to Qatar and France, told reporters travelling with him that the Centre will not name a political negotiator for this round of talks. He said the next round of discussions would be held after the Nagaland elections in February.

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