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Hitch over, talks begin

New Delhi, Feb. 3: The 'continuous and sustained dialogue' that the NSCN (I-M) leadership had been hoping for since arriving in New Delhi last December finally took off today with Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah meeting Union home minister Shivraj Patil after being assured that integration of Naga-inhabited areas would be on the agenda for discussions.

The intensive round of discussions with a group of ministers comprising Oscar Fernandes, Prithviraj Chavan and S. Reghupathy ' tasked to negotiate an 'honourable' political solution with the NSCN (I-M) leadership ' will begin tomorrow morning. 'We look forward to an acceleration and intensification of the negotiations in coming weeks and months,' Th. Muivah said after the meeting between an 11-member delegation of the NSCN (I-M) and the Union ministers.

'The level of the talks will continue, as before, at the Prime Minister's level,' he said.

A remark attributed to Shivraj Patil on rejecting the Naga unification demand during his recent Northeast visit had caused misunderstanding between the Naga leaders and the government. Officials said it was clarified to the NSCN (I-M) leadership late last evening that integration continued to be on the negotiating table.

'We are asking for land that belongs to the Nagas, not to the Assamese, Arunachalis or Manipuris,' Muivah said.

Muivah cited history to blame the problem to the 'arbitrary' drawing of boundaries that divided Nagas across different states.

It is a demand, Oscar Fernandes said, that is on the talks table. 'We are very hopeful of a resolution of the problem,' he said, describing the NSCN (I-M) meeting with Patil as a 'good start'. Muivah said the meeting had given them a 'greater understanding' of the government's position.

Swu, the NSCN (I-M) chairman, did not attend the meeting.

Apart from the group of three ministers, Patil was assisted by the government's emissary for the Naga peace process K. Padmanabhaiah, home secretary Dhirendra Singh and Intelligence Bureau chief E.S.L. Narasimhan.

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