The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Naga venue shifted to shield PM
- Ceasefire talks to be held away from Bangkok

Bangkok, July 27: In order not to embarrass Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while he is here, the Naga peace talks for extending the ceasefire have been hastily shifted out of the Thai capital.

The talks are now to be held in Chiang Mai, near the Myanmar border, an hour’s flight away. If the Naga leadership is away from Bangkok, Manmohan Singh can be saved from embarrassing questions about why there was no meeting with them or why the talks failed, if they do.

The chairman of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), Isak Chishi Swu, however, said that the Naga leadership was not insisting on a meeting with the Prime Minister.

“If he is here and is inclined to meet us, we would be very happy to meet him. But we will also not insist on the meeting. From his attitude itself we will draw inferences about how he views the Naga problem,” Swu said.

The Naga peace talks have been in abeyance with the coming in of the United Progressive Alliance government and the entire focus is now on extending the ceasefire. The ceasefire first announced in July 1997 has been extended every year since then. Unless extended again, it will end this Saturday.

There is some uncertainty about the extension because of the NSCN(I-M)’s objections to the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme, which says that the boundaries of the northeastern states would not be changed.

This impacts on the Naga demand for a consolidation of all Naga-inhabited areas under one administrative unit as well as on the future boundaries of the states neighbouring Nagaland.

As of now, both sides seem to be circling each other and trying to read the other’s mind. If the ceasefire is not extended, it could be embarrassing for the new government.

The Prime Minister, who will be in Bangkok from July 29 to 31 to attend a summit meeting of the Bimstec (Bangladesh India Myanmar Sri Lanka Thailand Economic Cooperation) group, may then be asked why the seven-year-old peace process has been disrupted.

About the change of venue, Swu said: “The ceasefire talks were suddenly shifted out of Bangkok and we were merely informed of the new venue. We are not going to be mean-minded and insist that the talks be held only in Bangkok.”

Swu claimed that the Naga leadership would not presume that this was because the Prime Minister did not want a meeting. However, he also said with a wry smile: “The change of venue was suggested by the Indian side and we agreed. But we will draw conclusions about why this was done.”

But was he for the extension of the ceasefire' “A ceasefire is only important if it facilitates the peace process. If it is necessary for the progress of the peace process, we will extend it. But if that is not the prospect we are looking at, then we will not extend it. It will depend on our assessment of the attitude of the new dispensation in Delhi,” he said.

The general secretary of the NSCN (I-M), Thuingaleng Muivah, is arriving here for the talks from Amsterdam early tomorrow morning. The Indian delegation will also reach around the same time. The Indian negotiators comprise former home secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, special director in the Intelligence Bureau .C. Padhi and joint director Ajit Lal.

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