India signs peace deal with separatist group

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI • India has signed a peace agreement with a leading tribal separatist group in the country's remote north-east that had waged guerilla war for six decades against New Delhi.

On Monday, officials from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government signed the accord with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), one of several separatist groups that are active in the remote and underdeveloped north-eastern region bordering on China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

The NSCN-IM separatist group has been fighting for an independent ethnic Naga homeland uniting parts of the mountainous north-east with areas of neighbouring Myanmar, where it runs a government- in-exile.

At least one other Naga faction remains at war with New Delhi.

New Delhi and the NSCN-IM have been in talks since 1997.

"We are making a new beginning today... 60 years is a long time of fighting, the wounds are deep," Mr Modi said at a televised news conference alongside NSCN-IM secretary-general Thuingaleng Muivah, a co-founder of the rebel group.

The terms of the agreement were not immediately known.

Mr Modi's government has said that it wants to develop the region, which has long felt neglected by the rest of the country, by pumping in development funds and building better infrastructure.

"Since becoming Prime Minister, peace, security and economic transformation of the north-east have been among my highest priorities. It is also at the heart of my foreign policy, especially Act East," Mr Modi said, referring to efforts to forge closer ties with South-east Asia.

Militants in the north-east have stepped up attacks against India's armed forces this year.

In June, guerillas killed 20 soldiers in Manipur state, which borders Nagaland, in the deadliest attack on security forces in the area in two decades.

The unrest has killed more than 170 people, most of them militants, in the north-east this year, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. Last year, 465 people were killed.

Militant violence is declining across India, but the country is still fighting separatists in disputed Kashmir state in the north-east, as well as Maoist-inspired groups operating across a swathe of the east.

"Our oldest insurgency is getting resolved. It is a signal to other smaller groups to give up wea-pons," Mr Modi said at the signing ceremony.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2015, with the headline 'India signs peace deal with separatist group'. Print Edition | Subscribe