Kohima, Nov. 23: Two decades of hostility seemed to disappear in a trice as leaders of the warring Naga factions met near Dimapur today to make an astonishing declaration — that the two NSCN factions would unite for the common cause.
“To bring an end to the fratricidal killings, we have decided to unite as one group, to be called the NSCN,” the two sides said in a joint declaration.
The meeting of kilonsers (ministers) from the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions at a Sumi-inhabited hamlet located 35km from Nagaland’s commercial hub, Dimapur, is seen as the turning point in a peace process that has dragged interminably.
The Niuland declaration was signed by the “home minister” of the NSCN(I-M), Ajeto Choppy, and the “external affairs minister” of the NSCN(K), C. Singson. Choppy led a 16-member delegation, mostly Sumi leaders, to the talks. Representation of the Khaplang group at the meeting was considerably smaller — just three members — but the fact that almost the entire gathering was from the Sumi tribe was significant.
It is believed that unity among leaders from the community in both factions holds the key to unification. A group representing the Sumi tribe, the Western Sumi Hoho, “hosted” the meeting.
The chairman of the NSCN (I-M), Isak Chishi Swu, had only yesterday spoken of “unity” as the sole recipe for a successful peace process. Swu is from the Sumi tribe, as is the NSCN (K) general secretary, Kitovi Zhimomi.
Chief minister Neiphiu Rio said he was optimistic about today’s development leading to the unification of the NSCN factions and success in the peace talks with Delhi. “Once Sumi tribesmen unite, Nagas will unite for the common cause.”
Naga organisations, led by the Church and the Naga Hoho, have long been trying to convince the two groups to set aside their differences for the sake of the Naga community. Swu said yesterday that certain agencies were trying to widen the rift in Naga society to undermine the “Naga political issue”.
Emerging from the meeting at Niuland, Singson said a formal declaration of ceasefire between the factions would be announced tomorrow.
“This is the first step and I am sure there will be hurdles in our way as there are agencies that are opposed to Naga unity. More meetings will be held to take forward the process.”
The NSCN split in 1988 after S.S. Khaplang fell out with Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of the NSCN (I-M).
Delhi has a ceasefire with both factions, but has been holding talks only with Swu and Muivah. The Myanmar-based Khaplang is known to be reclusive, unlike the media-savvy Swu-Muivah combine.