The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Naga talks cross Ibobi hurdle

New Delhi, Jan. 22: The NSCN (I-M) today appeared peeved at Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s claim that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had assured him of not altering the state’s boundary, seeking a clarification from New Delhi on the issue.

However, the talks, which were extended by a day, remained unaffected.

The fact that the negotiations did not fall through was a breather for both sides, indicating that they were committed to a negotiated settlement. The NSCN (I-M) leaders, however, were not at all charitable to Ibobi Singh’s claim on the Prime Minister’s assurance.

Realising the harm that Ibobi Singh’s claim of a prime ministerial assurance to Manipur could cause to the Naga talks, officials went on a damage-control drive.

Vajpayee’s press adviser refused to say whether the Prime Minister had actually given the assurance to the Manipur delegation. An official, however, said: “This is what the chief minister is saying.”

The Centre certainly is walking the tightrope, caught between the frying pan and the fire. A violent reaction in Manipur in the initial stages of the Naga peace discussions could turn its applecart upside down.

“It will upset the strategy evolved by the Centre which is to carry all sides along,” an official said.

The two sides today discussed various issues from 11.30 am to nearly 1.30 pm, but were tight-lipped about what transpired across the negotiation table.

The Centre’s negotiator, K. Padmanabhaiah, refused to take calls, while Thuingaleng Muivah, generally willing to speak to reporters, did not go into the specifics.

“The talks are progressing very well,” was all Muivah said, as he came out of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s home where he met the Congress leader for 30 minutes.

“I will talk later,” Muivah said, asked about Vajpayee’s assurance, as he drove off in a bullet-proof Ambassador. Narasimha Rao is the first Indian leader who Muivah and Swu have met. He is credited with having given the initial push for peace talks with the NSCN (I-M).

Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir today arrived in the national capital.

Although Jamir is here to discuss the state’s elections with the Congress bosses, he has requested a meeting with the Prime Minister.

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