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Singh damper on Naga unity cry

Guwahati, April 1: In a development which can severely hamper the eight-year-old Naga peace talks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today virtually ruled out integration of Naga-inhabited areas, which is the main demand of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah).

Singh said during a news conference in Guwahati that in the “present circumstances, alteration of the states’ boundaries was not possible”.

The NSCN (I-M) has been pushing the integration issue on top of its agenda in every round of talks and Singh’s categorical statement is likely to anger the Naga outfit.

The Prime Minister’s statement was apparently aimed at the voters in Assam, which goes to the polls in two phases on April 3 and 10. Singh’s two-day visit to the state, starting today, is primarily aimed at boosting the ruling Congress’s poll prospects as he attended two public rallies and will address a couple of more tomorrow before returning to New Delhi.

The campaigning for the first phase of polls on April 3 ended today.

Singh, however, did not sound too harsh, saying: “We want Nagaland to prosper in an atmosphere of peace and security, but territorial integrity of various states is something that cannot be violated.”

The Prime Minister said it would be impossible to alter the boundaries without the consensus of the states concerned. The states to be affected by such a move ' Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh ' have already ruled out the Naga demand.

Singh said Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh would be taken into confidence by the Centre before taking any decision on inclusion of any Naga-inhabited areas of these states in “Greater Nagalim”. However, all the three states have passed resolutions in their respective Assemblies not to cede any territory to Nagaland.

The Prime Minster also did not set any timeframe for resolving the Naga impasse. “There are negotiations going on with insurgent groups of Nagaland, but at this moment it will be difficult to say how soon we will be arriving at an agreement.”

Even after more than 40 rounds of dialogue, little headway has been made on the “substantive issues” forwarded by the NSCN (I-M) that primarily revolves around integration of all Naga-inhabited areas under a single administrative mechanism and sovereignty, among others.

Singh’s statement comes at a time when a delegation from Nagaland has returned from Papua New Guinea after studying the famous Bougainville peace process. The NSCN (I-M) believes this can be a model for finding a solution to the Naga impasse.

The next round of Centre-NSCN (I-M) talks is likely to be held later this month in either Bangkok or Amsterdam and are considered very crucial. The ceasefire agreement with the centre expires on July 31.

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