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Recluse leader in cry for Naga unity NSCN group submits formula to council
- On Khaplang’s Trail: A Telegraph special
Elusive Naga leader S.S. Khaplang speaks to Samir K. Purkayastha of The Telegraph in his firstinterview in five years. Purkayastha trekked for two-and-a-half days through the jungles and hills of upper Myanmar to reach the NSCN-K Council headquarters

NSCN-K Council headquarters (somewhere in the jungles of Myanmar), Feb. 3: Given a choice, NSCN (K) chief Shangnyu Shangwang Khaplang would remain a recluse. Recent developments on the Naga front have, however, forced the 63-year-old militant leader to make an exception.

Interacting with the media for the first time in several years, Khaplang said at his headquarters inside the jungles of Kenup Tephak Joku Valley in Myanmar that his outfit had submitted a “unity formula” to the Naga Hoho to end fratricidal clashes.

“Neither we nor they (the NSCN-IM) can independently hammer out a solution to the Naga problem. After all, there cannot be two solutions to one problem. There has to be a consensus,” he said in reference to the political dialogue between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M).

Since the NSCN split into two in May 1988, hundreds of people have been killed in clashes between the two factions. Several attempts by the Church and tribal councils of Nagaland to bring about a rapprochement have not borne fruit.

Though the NSCN (I-M) had “reached Delhi”, Khaplang claimed his group’s priority at the moment was “unity and not talks”. He said the split in the original NSCN was an unfortunate occurrence and that a “honourable solution” to the vexed Naga problem would have been found by now had the community been united.

Dressed in a grey suit, the Hemi Naga from Myanmar spoke continuously for over five hours on all issues concerning the Nagas. He shares his headquarters with camps of several other militant outfits, including the Ulfa, the United National Liberation Front, the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Revolutionary Army of Kangleipak.

These camps are located on the banks of two streams that flow along the foothills of the Patkai range.

Khaplang lords over the NSCN (K) council headquarters and is addressed as “Baba” by the cadre of all outfits.

The militant leader said his “unity formula” was all about “seeking forgiveness from God and the Naga people”. He urged leaders of all groups to adopt the “spirit of forgive and forget” in the interest of peace.

“A re-united NSCN will accommodate senior leaders of all groups. My kilonsers (ministers) have already agreed to sacrifice their posts if and when the proposal is implemented,” Khaplang said.

The NSCN (K) chief, however, refused to give up the demand for sovereignty of the areas inhabited by the Naga community. He said anything short of “independence” was not acceptable to the Nagas.

“If they (NSCN-IM) clinch sovereignty for all Naga areas, then we will accept it. But if they accept a settlement under the Constitution of India, it will create more problems than we have on our hands now. We have been receiving offers from New Delhi to start political talks, but we have decided to wait till the ongoing dialogue between the government of India and the NSCN (I-M) is over.”

Khaplang accused the Congress of dividing the Nagas, but conceded that it was the only party with the ability to resolve the issues that have plagued the community for decades. He dismissed the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre as one that “does not have the experience to solve our problems”.

On the continuing mistrust between militant outfits in Nagaland, Khaplang said the Centre and the NSCN (I-M) were to blame for it. He accused the Centre of employing divisive policies and the NSCN (I-M) of “pouring cold water” on his efforts to unite the community.

“The Southeast Asian Forum had arranged a meeting between me and Isak and Muivah in the presence of Ulfa leaders Arabinda Rajkhowa and Anup Chetia and UNLF chief Sanayaima. That was at Geneva in 1997. Though I was willing to interact with them, both Isak and Muivah refused to even shake hands with me. They should understand that in politics there is no permanent enemy or friend,” he said.

Khaplang denied having links with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

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