Naga peace accord awaits consensus on signatories

Centre’s interlocutor R.N. Ravi has been meeting with Naga factions

July 22, 2018 12:03 am | Updated December 01, 2021 06:33 am IST - New Delhi/Imphal

A step closer: A Naga rebel member at Hebron camp in Dimapur in 2016.

A step closer: A Naga rebel member at Hebron camp in Dimapur in 2016.

A Naga peace accord, which has been hanging fire since a framework agreement was signed with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) [NSCN-IM] in 2015, is almost ready but the government has to decide on the signatory, a top government official said.

Multiple stakeholders

There is confusion on who will sign the agreement on behalf of the Naga groups and a decision on this could take some time. After signing an agreement with the NSCN-IM, the largest group representing the Nagas, the Centre signed a preamble in November 2017 with six Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) to hold further discussions to find a solution to the long-standing Naga issue. However, it is not clear how long it will take to get all the factions on the same page.

Over the past week, the government interlocuter for Naga talks, R.N Ravi has held many meetings with representatives of the NNPGs who are camping in Delhi. He also held parallel discussions with representatives of the NSCN-IM.

On behalf of the Centre, Mr. Ravi had signed the ‘framework agreement’ at the residence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 3, 2015 at a much publicised ceremony.

Special status promised

One stakeholder told The Hindu there is understanding that while there will be no redrawing of the maps for Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur to merge the Naga inhabited areas with Nagaland for a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim, Nagas living in these States would get “special rights” on “land and resources.”

“When the Centre signed an agreement with NSCN-IM in 2015, most Naga groups weren’t aware. Negotiations with both camps are going on simultaneously. If there was integration of Naga inhabited areas, then there would be one pact. Since that looks like a remote possibility at this stage, the Centre should recognise the rights of the Nagas in other States,” a Naga leader said, on condition of anonymity.

Last week Chief Ministers of the three BJP-ruled States rushed to Delhi to express their concerns amid reports that the Naga peace agreement could be signed before the monsoon session of the Parliament. The Chief Ministers are against conceding territory for Naga integration.

The details of the agreement were made public for the first time as part of the 213th report on the security situation in the northeastern States, tabled by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs in the Rajya Sabha earlier this week , The report said the NSCN-IM had agreed for a settlement within the Indian federation with a “special status.” The NSCN-IM has been fighting for ‘Greater Nagaland’ or Nagalim — it wants to extend Nagaland’s borders by including Naga-dominated areas in neighbouring Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, to unite 1.2 million Nagas.

Home Ministry officials informed the parliamentary panel that in Nagaland, the insurgent groups have been extorting and collecting taxes from many sources including government departments.

“NSCN-IM has had the largest extortion network spanning almost all of the villages of Nagaland. It also emerged as the biggest supplier of arms in the Northeast. Arms were smuggled from China, through Bangladesh and sold to insurgent outfits across the region,” the report said.

The committee led by Congress leader P. Chidambaram asked the Government to conclude the peace talks at the earliest. “NSCN-IM would have thousand of cadres who must be adequately settled to make the agreement successful and to prevent the emergence of any rebel splinter group,” the report said.

The Centre has also proposed an auxiliary battalion for the cadres of NSCN-IM, who have been living in a camp in Hebron. They would also be asked to surrender their weapons, an official said.

Manipur, which has the largest Naga population, with as much as 90% of its territory populated by Nagas and the remaining 10% by Kuki tribals, is keenly awaiting the outcome of the agreement.

Many political and civil society groups have pinned hopes on an amicable settlement between the Naga and Kuki rebels. However Manipur’s insurgents and other civil organisations have made it clear that any provision in the peace accords which will eventually compromise territory and authority would not be acceptable.

Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren told The Hindu , “The government is committed to protecting the territory of Manipur. Not a single inch of land shall be ceded away.”

Sunil Karam, president of the United Committee Manipur, which was formed in July 2001 for the express task of protecting the State’s territory, declared, “The vivisection of this ancient land on communal lines will never be accepted. People shall shed blood to protect the land left by our forefathers.”

The preparations have been made with the assumption that a durable peace cannot be achieved in the northeast without involving all groups. This led to the Army signing a Suspension of Operations (SoO) with some armed Kuki rebel groups on November 1, 2005. Many of the groups, police feel, had taken up arms, fearing ethnic cleansing. Though it meant that security forces and the Kuki rebels were not to attack each other, the then Manipur government had not been consulted, and remained non-committal.

The then Chief Minister Okram Ibobi of the Congress said, “We do not know much about this agreement since we were never taken into confidence.” As a result, police and paramilitary forces continued killing and arresting Kuki rebels in the State. Ultimately, a new SoO was signed on August 12, 2008, with the direct involvement of the Manipur government.

Following that, over 23 Kuki outfits initially came overground and a number of designated camps were constructed to house them. There have been six rounds of talks between the central government, Manipur government and SoO signatories. The latest round was held on January 10 this year in New Delhi. The first political talks involving the centre, the Manipur government and the SoO signatories were held on June 13, 2016.

As grumblings and disillusionment among the Kuki leaders mounted over the fact that there was no interlocutor representing Manipur, the government was prompted to appointed S. Ibomcha, a retired IPS officer. However, the talks have not ended the demands for This did not end the expectation for the creation of a separate homeland for the Kukis in Manipur.

But reacting to these demands Chief Minister Biren Singh, however, told The Hindu that the government would not entertain such a demand. He pointed out that one of the pre-conditions for the former Kuki rebels to come overground was that they would not continue to demand a separate homeland.

The Chief Minister also said that the Kuki armed groups had come together under two umbrella bodies — the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and the United Kuki Front (UKF). Giving the break-up, the Chief Minister said, “There are 1122 cadres in the KNO and 1059 cadres under the KPF.” To make their life easier he had increased their stipend of ₹4000 per month per cadre to ₹6000, he said.

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