The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

A Naga Ultimatum
By THUINGALENG MUIVAH Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Separatist leader sets terms for peace with India

Thuingaleng Muivah, head of the separatist group National Socialist Council of Nagaland, has given New Delhi an ultimatum. Eight years of negotiations with the Indian government have yielded no results. If no acceptable settlement is reached by January 31, 2006—the date that existing ceasefire agreements will expire—he will suspend all negotiations and return to the jungles of northeastern India, along the border with Burma, to resume an armed opposition movement that began nearly 50 years ago. The ranks of the NSCN have swelled to some 6,000 soldiers since the group signed a ceasefire agreement in 1997. A fellow opposition group, the United Liberation Front of Assam, has now promised to back the NSCN in the event of a final breakdown in peace talks, making the Naga contingent an even more potent threat. In an interview with The Irrawaddy’s correspondent Subir Bhaumik, Muivah explains the conditions for a lasting peace between India and Nagaland.

Question: After eight years of negotiations with India, how do you feel?

Answer: Very tired. I feel doubly tired because there seems to be no result coming out of the talks. We Nagas have taken positive steps. We have come down from our demand of absolute sovereignty, but the Indian government seems to be playing for time. It is time for them to take a definite decision. Our patience has been taxed to the limit.

Q: So, what are you suggesting?

A: We have revised our proposals twice. Now, India has to make a decision. Either it accepts a settlement on our latest proposals, or it should be prepared to take the blame for the breakdown of the talks. We want peace, and we want friendship with India. We want a genuine settlement, but we cannot allow India to play around with us. India will either have to come up with an acceptable settlement by January 31, 2006, when the ceasefire expires, or there will be no further talks. This is our last ceasefire with India unless we have a settlement.

Q: Why do you think you don’t have a settlement after eight years of negotiations?

A: We climbed down from our position of absolute sovereignty. We agreed to have joint responsibility for the defense of Nagaland. We decided to leave the responsibility of external affairs to India, unless some issue affected our interests directly, in which case we suggested Delhi should consult us. We also decided to accept Indian currency. We argued that Nagaland cannot be defended by the Indians alone; Nagas must be responsible for that as well, in some form.

Q: Nagas defended Indian territory in Kargil during the war with Pakistan, yes? Naga soldiers of the Indian Army fought as bravely as anybody else?

A: Yes, yes, that is true. We are not opposed to the presence of the Indian Army in Nagaland. All we are saying is that we should have a Naga force responsible for internal security, which will also have joint responsibility for the defense of Nagaland, along with the Indian Army. Nagaland has to be defended by the Nagas—we have always fought all invaders fiercely and bravely. We understand and appreciate India’s security concerns, and so we will accept the presence of the Indian Army on Naga soil. We will also wish to be consulted on any external issue that affects the interests of the Nagas.

Q: You say you have climbed down from the NSCN’s original position of absolute sovereignty. Is there any issue that you think you cannot compromise on?

A: Yes. We will never compromise on our demand for the reunification of the Naga homeland. We were divided first by the British, and then India perpetuated the divisions. The NSCN wants a unified Naga homeland, and we will either have it or we will fight for it.

Q: But the Indian government says this is a demand they find it hard to concede to, because of possible repercussions in [neighboring states] Manipur and Assam. After all, there was much violence in Manipur when the ceasefire with the NSCN was extended to that state, was there not?

A: We were not responsible for that violence. We don’t want the territories of the Meiteis or the Assamese or anybody else. We only want all Naga territories, where Nagas have lived for generations, which should be merged with Nagaland to form a unified Naga homeland. This is crucial for the future of the Nagas.

Q: But what happens when India says it cannot accept this demand?

A: If India thinks it will deprive the Nagas in order to keep the Meiteis and the Assamese happy, it can go ahead. It may find some traitors amongst the Nagas to accept a settlement on those lines. But we will never accept a settlement without reunification of the Naga territories. This is the bottom line.

Q: But will you take the initiative to raise this issue with the Meiteis and the Assamese? And what about the contention made by some that other Naga rebel factions also should be included in the talks?

A: We tried, and there was not much of a result. The Indian government should work for a settlement based on the uniqueness of Naga history, which was accepted by former prime minister Vajpayee. We were never Indians, and we were never conquered by India. We can never be expected to agree to a settlement within the Indian constitution because we are not Indians. We did not accept the imposition of Indian rule in 1947 and fought for more than fifty years—and we will not accept it now. We want India to respect our unique history and work for a settlement by accepting that fact.

Q: How optimistic are you that this will happen?

A: I don’t know what Delhi has in mind, but we will not accept negotiations just for the sake of negotiating. We have made our position clear, and we have put all our cards on the table. Now, we want India to reciprocate. Other Naga groups will support our position because they know we will never compromise the interests of the Nagas. Only traitors will differ. Now, Khaplang’s people [members of a rival Naga opposition group led by S S Khaplang] are hobnobbing with Indian forces and working against us. But if India thinks it can make Nagas swallow a settlement of its own liking by using these traitors, I must tell you that they are living in a fool’s paradise. We Nagas will suffer, as we have, but we will never accept anything dishonorable.

Q: Are you apprehensive about a repeat of history, like in 1964, when the talks broke down?

A: It all depends on India. If the leaders in Delhi are sincere, they will have a settlement with the Nagas. But they must know there can be no peace in the region unless the Nagas have a settlement which takes care of their aspirations.

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