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Molest fury shadow on Naga peace talks

New Delhi, Dec. 30: Public anger over a molestation case involving alleged cadres of Naga militant group NSCN (Isak-Muivah) has sparked fears of a jolt to ongoing peace talks with the group, though the Centre sees an opportunity to drive a hard bargain.

Two protesters died in alleged firing from an NSCN (IM) camp last week when a crowd marched to the site demanding that the cadres accused of molesting two women recently be handed over to police. The alleged molestation and the backlash unfolded in Ghatashe, a small town around 100km from state capital Kohima.

This is the second time the outfit has faced public ire: people in Dimapur had protested what they had claimed was “unabated taxation” by NSCN (IM) cadres, a euphemism for extortion.

The latest unrest has cast a shadow on a 1997 ceasefire agreement signed between the then United Front government at the Centre and the NSCN (IM). It also threatens the momentum the 16-year peace process was seen to be gathering in recent months, until a key interlocutor quit.

The Centre has, however, smelt a chance to grab a bargaining chip against the NSCN (IM) from last week’s unrest and could resist its demands on integration of Naga pockets in other northeastern states such as Manipur.

“Killing of civilians amounts to abrogation of ceasefire,” Shambhu Singh, joint secretary (the Northeast) in the Union home ministry, said when asked about media speculation that the Centre could end the ceasefire pact.

The state government headed by Neiphiu Rio, whose Nagaland People’s Party(NPP) backs the cause of a larger Naga homeland championed by militant groups and was re-elected this March, is accused by some of silently watching from sidelines as the law and order worsened.

The fresh unrest and the alleged state indifference have triggered fears that sectarian violence could spread to Dimapur, a Nagaland business hub bordering Assam and dubbed a “melting pot” as it is inhabited by Nagas and people from other states.

Singh, the joint secretary in charge of the Northeast, admitted the Centre feared the unrest could spread to Dimapur. Another setback was the resignation of R.S. Pandey, the Centre’s interlocutor in the talks. He was once the state’s chief secretary.