The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Meru does what Rio could not

New Delhi/Kohima, July 8: After blocking Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio’s “peace mission” to Bangkok, the Centre has finally allowed state tourism and land revenue minister Vatsu Meru to travel to the Thai capital to meet the NSCN (I-M) leadership.

Meru is likely to have a “consultative meeting” with the Naga leaders ahead of the next round of talks between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M) from July 15.

Rio’s proposed Bangkok date was cancelled last week, a day after he announced that the Union home ministry had cleared the trip. The NSCN (I-M) accused the PMO of scuttling the move. It would have allowed the state government to directly participate in the peace talks.

Meru, who left for the Thai capital yesterday, will “try to salvage the setback caused by the cancellation of the chief minister’s visit,” a source said.

NSCN (I-M) deputy information kilonser (minister) Karaiba Chawang said Meru’s meeting with the outfit’s collective leaders — Isak Chisi Swu and Th. Muivah — would be “consultative” in nature.

He said the discussions would centre on issues pertaining to reconciliation of various warring Naga militant groups.

He, however, insisted that the state government’s role in the peace process would remain that of a “facilitator.”

Meru, during his meeting with the militant leaders, is likely to highlight the initiatives taken by the state government for fostering unity among the various militant groups.

The reconciliation moves of the Naga Hoho had suffered a setback recently when the NSCN (I-M) refused to co-operate with its reconciliation commission, questioning the “integrity and impartiality” of some members of the panel.

Meru was entrusted with the role of the “state government’s emissary” since he is “non-controversial and low profile.” His visit would not attract as much media attention as Rio’s would have, sources in Nagaland said.

The next round of talks between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M) is crucial in terms of the issues that are likely to come up for discussion.

“Matters should be expedited as there has been a tendency to delay over trivial issues that can be settled with ease. The sooner there’s a solution the better for the state,” Rio said.

He emphasised two points that could hasten the peace process — the appointment of a political emissary and charting a blueprint for the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas into a single administrative unit.

The ceasefire with the NSCN (I-M) expires on July 31. Rio, during his visit to the capital, said the three conditions laid down by the outfit for the extension have been “amicably” resolved.

One of the conditions, he said, was withdrawal of the Disturbed Areas Act, which the group views as being incompatible with the ceasefire.

“The Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, if they are not allowed to lapse, could send a wrong message. These are contradictory to the peace process,” Nagaland home minister T.M. Lotha said.

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