| Union home minister Shivraj Patil shakes hands with Thuingaleng Muivah in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Feb. 4: The NSCN (I-M) leadership is likely to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh early next week, possibly Monday, before sitting down to discuss substantive issues with the group of ministers representing the Centre.
The Prime Minister, at the meeting with the Naga Leaders in December, had pledged to walk the extra mile to arrive at a settlement and heard the outfit's top guns speak of their commitment to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The NSCN (I-M) leaders have reportedly informed the government of their intention of meeting Singh again, possibly to set a positive tone for the series of meetings lined up for next week with the group of ministers nominated by the Prime Minister.
The outfit's general secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah, had earlier stressed that the Prime Minister should chair the first round of talks 'because we have the highest confidence in him and do not doubt his sincerity to resolve the Indo-Naga issue'.
A delegation led by Muivah and assisted by the government's interlocutor K. Padmanabhaiah and other officials met the group of ministers today, but sources said neither side raised the substantive issues, including unification of Naga-inhabited areas.
'The meeting lasted two hours, most of it spent in getting to know each other,' a source said.
Muivah is said to have held forth for about an hour on the background of the peace process and the struggle of the Naga people. The two sides will meet again, tentatively on Tuesday, if the Naga leaders are able to meet the Prime Minister the previous day. 'The meetings can then be held on a daily basis or alternate days,' the source said.
A remark rejecting the unification demand attributed to Union home minister Shivraj Patil earlier this week had upset the Naga delegation, forcing the government to hurriedly clarify that Patil's comments were wrongly reported.
The appeased Naga leaders met the home minister yesterday and Patil is learnt to have assured them that he did not envisage any hurdles in their meeting with the Prime Minister.
After the meeting with Patil, Muivah said the unification of Naga-inhabited areas was integral to the resolution of the Naga issue.
The NSCN (I-M) general secretary said it was not unnatural for the Nagas to demand to live together, just like the Gujaratis do in Gujarat and Rajasthanis in Rajasthan. 'We are not demanding the land that does not belong to us...The Naga people have been living separately and we want to live together,' he said.