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Nagaland bowls Khaplang googly

Kohima, Dec. 2: Nagaland has turned conventional counter-insurgency policy on its head by requesting Delhi to prevail upon Myanmar to declare a ceasefire with the Khaplang faction of the NSCN instead of trying to flush out the militant group.

Articulating his government’s stand on the sidelines of the Hornbill Festival in Kohima last evening, chief minister Neiphiu Rio cited “economic” reasons for recommending the opposite of what any state government would be expected to do.

Rio said India must pressure Myanmar to make peace with Naga people living across the border so that they can participate in the economic activities envisaged under Delhi’s Look East policy. “Peace in the Naga areas of Myanmar is essential to develop trade with Myanmar through Nagaland.”

He made the request to external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and intends to speak to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too. It is the first time any state government has suggested that a neighbouring country be asked to go easy on a militant outfit that has been operating from there.

The NSCN(K) has a dominating presence in the Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar’s Sagaing division and shares camps with other militant groups, including Ulfa and the United National Liberation Front of Manipur. Assam and Manipur have been asking for a sustained crackdown by Myanmar on these militant bases, just like Bhutan did through Operation All Clear in 2003.

Rio said unlike other northeastern militant groups that were using Myanmarese soil to wage war on India with the junta’s “overt or covert support”, the Khaplang group was engaged in a “political conflict” with that country. “India should take the initiative in making the military junta in Myanmar recognise the Naga issue as a political problem.”

The chief minister offered another explanation why there should be “peace” in the Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar. Unless there is peace and development of the contiguous Naga areas of Myanmar, there will be no peace in Nagaland. Opium and other contraband substances will continue to be smuggled into the state from across the border, he said.

On the recent declaration of militant leaders from the Sumi community about the Khaplang and Isak-Muivah factions uniting, Rio said “sectoral unity” would not help the Naga cause. “I hope it (the unity move) will not be restricted to one community.”

Union minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh, who attended the Hornbill Festival, said Delhi was focusing on making the Northeast more accessible and would do away with the Restricted Area Permit system for foreigners.

“Such a restrictive mindset has not helped in increasing accessibility to the region,” he said of the system.

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