The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal and Naga bosses break ice
- Indian leadership very sincere: Swu

New Delhi, Jan. 9: The first round of talks between the NSCN (I-M) top brass and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Indian soil got off to a smooth start with the Naga leaders praising the wisdom and maturity of the current Indian leadership.

The contours of the negotiations will be put on the table when NSCN (I-M) chairman Isak Chisi Swu and secretary-general Thuingaleng Muivah start substantive talks with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani tomorrow evening.

The concept of a “traditional Naga homeland” — depending on the NSCN (I-M)’s interpretation and the extent to which the Indian government is willing to accept that — appears to be turning into the main plank.

All sides were circumspect but a hint of what to expect in the coming days was given by the NSCN (I-M) leadership today. “There is just one Nagaland. No big or small Nagaland,” Swu told newsmen while emerging from a 40-minute meeting with the Prime Minister and his close aides at Vajpayee’s 7 Race Course Road residence.

This indicates that the NSCN (I-M) leadership is keen to bring “traditional Naga-inhabitated areas” under a “single administrative unit”. Naga groups have been staking claim to some areas in uneasy neighbouring states, especially Manipur.

The NSCN (I-M) chairman stressed that the Indian government’s acknowledgement of the “unique history of the Nagas” has gone a long way in assuaging the sentiments of the people.

After the meeting with Vajpayee, the NSCN (I-M) leadership appeared impressed by the Indian government’s determination to solve the Naga issue.

“We praise the wisdom of the Government of India. There is a lot better understanding on their part,” Muivah said. “The Prime Minister and the Indian leadership are very sincere,” echoed Swu.

A candid Swu admitted that the earlier talks between the Naga leaders and Delhi, especially when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, failed because “both sides were immature”.

Indicating that both sides are pragmatic in their approach now, Swu said the Naga people understood the realities facing the Indian government and New Delhi, too, was aware of their compulsions.

Swu described the meeting as “very cordial and friendly” but added that that it was too early to comment on the success and failure of the talks.

“We discussed the Naga problem across the table. It will be premature to say anything now.” Asked to name the core issue, he said: “To solve the problem through peaceful means and continue the discussions on a peaceful basis.”

The message from the NSCN (I-M) leadership seemed to be that a solution to the thorny issue, which has festered for over four decades, can only be hammered out through give and take on both sides.

The meeting at Vajpayee’s home was also attended by his principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, home secretary Gopalaswami, the Centre’s interlocutor in the talks K. Padmanabhaiah and Intelligence Bureau chief K.P. Singh.

A ceasefire has been in force with the NSCN (I-M) since 1997. Several rounds of talks have been held with the organisation, but the discussions hardly ever addressed substantive issues.

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