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Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi willing, settlement in a year: Muivah

Bangkok, July 20: If the Government of India was willing, the Naga issue could be settled once and for all within a year, according to Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah).

Muivah said, in an interview to The Telegraph: “We are ready to resolve the issue within one year provided there is a sincere and serious commitment from the Indian side. If India decides to recognise as legitimate the natural aspiration of the Nagas to live together, the Nagas will understand that it is sincere in trying to find a solution. Then a lot of progress can be made.”

The Naga leader said considerable progress had been made in the last six years of the ceasefire — India understood the Naga problem better now and recognised the need to find a political solution through negotiations instead of using military might.

As for the Nagas, Muivah said, they had also learnt to appreciate the political and other difficulties that the Indian government faces. “It does not have the freedom to move forward given the domestic political situation. However, that does not mean that it can afford to ignore the problem,” he said.

Elaborating this point, the Naga leader said: “Without enough political support in Parliament and outside it, the Government of India cannot address the Naga issue. There is the Congress party and others whose views have to be taken into account. The BJP cannot be blamed for this. At the same time, the Indian government is aware that if the Naga aspiration and rights are not taken seriously, there can be problems from the Naga side also. So, from both sides the Indian government has to face difficulties.”

He said that when he had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi in January this year, he had told her that it was the Congress which had taken the initiative for the peace process.

“Even before Narasimha Rao, her husband, Rajiv Gandhi, being a very dynamic young man, had approached us and we had responded positively. Even Indira Gandhi wanted peace with the Nagas and we had responded — whenever there was a positive approach from India we responded positively. If I am not mistaken, she understood that. We told her that, in the early 1970s, her party had passed resolutions for the integration of Naga territories,” Muivah said.

The Naga leader said Sonia had told him that “the solution of one problem should not lead to the creation of other problems”. However, he said: “We told her that the integration of Naga areas should not create any problems because the situation as it exists today is because of the creation of the Indian state and not of the Nagas.”

The Indian negotiators have impressed upon the NSCN (I-M) the importance of exploring alternatives to the integration of Naga-inhabited areas spread over Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.

Muivah said: “It is hard for us to say what alternatives they are thinking about. But the Nagas will not expect anything less than what they deserve. They would not like to see their territories being kept divided. If the natural aspiration of the Nagas is denied, how can there be any solution'”

Neither giving statutory powers to the apex tribal body — the Naga Hoho — nor any solution within the state of Manipur would be acceptable to the Nagas.

Saying this, Muivah ruled out two alternative proposals that have been floated unofficially to solve the Naga problem.

Muivah said though there had been some reports in the press about a proposal to give statutory powers to the Naga Hoho, the Indian negotiators in the peace talks had flatly denied that this had government sanction.

“We were told that this is not a proposal of the Indian home ministry. When I was in jail in Thailand, I had been approached by B.K. Roy Burman, an expert in tribal affairs, and he had broached this idea with me. I had told him then itself that we had basic differences with his approach — ours is a political problem and what he was proposing could only at best address social and cultural issues,” Muivah said.

The Naga leader also rejected a possible solution of a state within a state in Manipur — one state with two regions, each with its own legislative body with separate budgetary powers. “We have not heard about this as yet officially. But if this proposal is brought up at all, I can tell you that the Nagas will absolutely refuse to accept it,” Muivah said.

However, the NSCN leader said he believed that “Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is genuine in his desire for peace and has penetrating wisdom”.

“He knows that it is essential for the Indian people to get to know about the Naga issue. This purpose was served to some extent by the NSCN leaders visiting Delhi. But Vajpayee also knows that the problem is not easy to resolve and he may be finding it difficult somehow to work out the way towards peace,” Muivah said.

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