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Despair threatens Naga peace hope

- Nagaland, used to relative peace since 1997, wakes up to possibility of sudden violence

New Delhi, Dec. 30: People in Nagaland, used to relative peace since 1997, have suddenly woken up to the possibility of renewed violence.

Public ire in Nagaland against the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) over the molestation of two women missionaries of Sumi community from Arunachal Pradesh by its cadres threatens to upset the prolonged peace process — since August 1, 1997 — between the rebel outfit and Delhi. The cadres had allegedly stripped two women missionaries from Arunachal Pradesh and assaulted two men while they were travelling in a taxi on December 21 near Aghuto village.

The NSCN (I-M) said it would award befitting punishment to the errant cadres, but refused to hand them over to police. This irked the people and thousands attacked the ZB battalion of the outfit at Mukalimi village under Pughoboto subdivision in Zunheboto district. Two persons died in the clash while several were injured.

This is the second time the outfit has faced public ire. In October, people in Dimapur had protested against “unabated taxation”, a euphemism for extortion.

The Neiphiu Rio-led Nagaland government has silently watched from the sidelines since getting re-elected this March as the law and order situation worsened.

While the incident threatens the peace process, which is understood to have gained some momentum in 2013, New Delhi has smelt a chance to win a bargaining chip against the NSCN (I-M)’s insistence on integration of Naga areas across states.

“Killing of civilians amounts to abrogation of ceasefire,” joint secretary (Northeast) in the ministry of home affairs, Shambhu Singh, told The Telegraph in the wake of media reports that the Centre would abrogate the ceasefire.

This has ushered fears of not only a renewed phase of violence but also of real fears of a communal situation that could spread to Dimapur, the melting pot. Singh conceded that the Centre fears the violence could spread to Dimapur and said the government was doing its bit to prevent it.

After all, rival rebel groups work on tribal loyalties split across political boundaries of Nagaland and Manipur but over the years Nagas from Manipur have not only settled but also received rights in Nagaland. Reserved category status accorded to the Rongmei tribe this year faced resistance and in this week’s public anger, the NSCN (I-M)’s Tangkhul tribe (of Ukhrul, Manipur) cadres are at the receiving end.

The new situation casts a shadow over the negotiation that is dependent on engagement with Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh who is expected to address the question of more autonomy to Manipur hill areas. Like Rio on this side who has failed to prevent inter-factional clashes, Ibobi has been unable to repair the widening rift between the Meiteis and the Nagas.

Rio, who was till last year ready to “step down” to pave way for an alternative government has apparently asked the NSCN (I-M) to vacate the camp the Centre claims is not a designated camp, NSCN (I-M) sources said. “The government of India will claim these falsehoods whenever a situation favours them,” an NSCN (I-M) functionary said today.

Wrongdoing by the outfit notwithstanding, the situation suits the Centre, which is itself split into sections that favour one kind of settlement or the other. Over the years, agencies within the government are divided on the extent to which a compromise could be made, on the historical justification of a settlement beyond granting of statehood to Nagaland in 1963.

Recently the sheen of hope was dulled a little by the premature exit of interlocutor R.S. Pandey who recently joined the BJP. Pandey, camping in Bihar to prepare for a political future, said the negotiations were progressing well although it had not reached a logical conclusion. “But it can still reach its logical conclusion,” he said over phone.