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|June 6, 2002||
The Rediff Interview/Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga
Ever since the Union government initiated talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah faction), Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga has been on standby. Every time the talks have been deadlocked, the Government of India has used Zoramthanga's good offices to bring the rebels back to the negotiation table. Like in May, when the chief minister made a special trip to Bangkok to persuade the Naga leaders to continue the talks and take them to their logical end.
In an exclusive interview with Onkar Singh, the former Mizo rebel said the NSCN was also under pressure from the Naga people to end the insurgency. Excerpts:
When did the Government of India decide to use your influence with the Naga underground leaders to smoothen things out?
In 1999, when I became chief minister of Mizoram, I called on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The prime minister asked me if I could be the representative of the Government of India and hold talks with the NSCN insurgents. I told him that it would be difficult for me to do so as chief minister of my state. But I told him my services would be at his disposal as and when required.
I went to Bangkok in 2000 at the request of both parties. There I met Isak [Chishi Swu] and [Thuingaleng] Muivah. It helped to break the ice. The mutual distrust was removed. I am happy I was able to achieve that.
How would you describe Isak and Muivah. Are they tough negotiators?
They are very mature leaders and have been there for a long time now. They know what they do and are very reasonable. The mutual distrust between the Government of India and the NSCN has been there for long. I impressed upon them that the Government of India is serious about bringing peace to Nagaland because it is beneficial for the Nagas, the Government of India and for the integrity of India.
The rebels have taken a tough stand for so long, now they seem to be interested in peace. Why?
This is certainly at the request of the people of Nagaland. They have been fighting the Government of India for over five decades. They could still fight for decades, but the people of Nagaland, for whom they were fighting, were perishing day by day economically, politically and socially. When they realised that the people want peace, they decided to go in for a negotiated settlement. This is why they are keen to have talks with the Government of India.
Do you think an understanding was reached between the Government of India and the NSCN last year when they put forward the demand for greater Nagaland?
No, I don't believe that such an agreement had ever been reached between the two parties. In peace talks this is called the procedural stage, before the political negotiations. The latter part will start only after the Government of India allows NSCN leaders to come to India and hold talks with the political leadership of the country. Once they enter India and begin talks at the political level political demands will come up.
What do you feel about the government's approach in this matter?
I must admit that the Government of India has been very open in these talks as compared to the talks held with the Mizo National Front. Frankly, when I compare the two talks, I see the difference between heaven and hell. While they have met the Indian prime minister in foreign countries and discussed their demands with him, in our case after seven rounds of talks the person we met was an additional secretary to the Government of India! The Nagas have appreciated the openness of the prime minister and Home Minister L K Advani.
Did you speak to Advaniji about his possible participation in further talks?
Let me clarify this point. I did not speak to Advaniji about his participation in the talks. It is for the Government of India to decide who will hold talks with the Naga leaders on the political level. I personally believe the time has come when the Government of India should allow the Naga insurgents to come to New Delhi and let them start political negotiations to bring an end to these talks.
When are the NSCN leaders coming to Delhi?
I don't know. The Government of India negotiator, K Padmanabhaiah, would have to hold talks with the NSCN leaders again to sort out this matter.
Are they willing to come?
During my talks with Isak and Muivah they expressed their willingness to come to India and hold talks with the government. The Government of India has to make a few arrangements. For one, they have to be assured of safe conduct. The special warrant for their arrest will have to be revoked. Since the Vajpayee government is sincere I hope this will be sorted out soon.
Do you feel the United Liberation Front of Asom is also willing to hold talks with the government and bring an end to the insurgency in Assam?
In politics nothing is impossible. I believe that whether it is ULFA or any other underground outfit, they would be only too willing to come forward and hold talks with the Government of India so that a solution can be found to their problems and demands. Even the Kashmir problem can be solved if a conducive atmosphere is created.
Has your experience as an underground leader and negotiator helped you in the talks with the NSCN leaders?
Of course it has. I had handled the Mizo peace talks for 15 years before we reached a conclusion. My experience has come handy in dealing with difficult situations [though] it may not be similar to the talks that we held with the Government of India.
In case of the Mizo National Front you had one leader and that was Laldenga. The Nagas have so many leaders. Would it be possible for them to come together?
These leaders have not fought for their ego. They have fought for the people of Nagaland. I see no reason why they would not be able to come together and work together.
If the negotiations run into trouble will you help once more?
I have told Vajpayeeji that he can call me anytime for help. My services are available to the Government of India for peace.
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