Christians Try to End 40-year-old Insurgency Graphic, INDIACALM.
GAUHATI, India (AP) _ Christian clergymen are helping with efforts to negotiate an end to the 40- year-old tribal insurgency in Nagaland, the most remote Indian state.
Indian officials believe the Naga rebels may be more receptive to peace because of military pressure from the military government in neighboring Burma, where some Nagas live.
About 1,400 Nagas have fled Burma for India since December, when the Burmese government began cracking down on minorities in its border regions.
Separatists have fought a sporadic guerrilla war since 1952 to achieve an independent homeland for Nagas, members of Mongoloid tribes that once were headhunters. At least 5,000 guerrillas and 4,000 Indian soldiers have been reported killed.
About 85 percent of Nagaland’s people are Christians, most of them Baptists. The Nagaland Peace Council includes leaders of all Christian denominations and is led by the Rev. V.K. Nuh, who has been associated with peace efforts in Nagaland since 1965.
″The unity effort by the church is a very serious exercise,″ Vizol Angami, a former rebel leader who is now a minister in the state government, said in a telephone interview from Kohima, the Nagaland capital.
At one time, the rebellion by Nagas threatened India’s hold on the strategic northeast, a cluster of seven states rich in forests, tea and rubber.
Bangladesh is between the region and the rest of India, which are linked only by a narrow strip called the ″chicken neck.″ Kohima, is more than 1,000 miles east of New Delhi.
An accord was reached between the government and some of the guerrilla groups in 1975, but it did not bring peace because rebels based in Burma refused to honor it. Four major rebel groups operate in Nagaland.
In 1985, India closed the frontier with Burma in hopes of preventing Naga rebels from sheltering across the border after raids in Nagaland.
India, a predominantly Hindu nation of 840 million, stations about 15 percent of its 1.2 million soldiers in Nagaland, more than one for every 10 of the the 1,250,000 people.
The Nagaland state government has asked the influential Christian churches to help bring some unity among the tribes and the guerrilla factions so talks can begin.
″My government has launched a series of initiatives to unify the guerrilla groups because a meaningful dialogue ... is not possible if several factions continue to exist,″ said Phesao Vamuzo, the state’s chief minister.
″The church leaders are working hard under the guidance of Christ and with the full support of my government,″ he said in an interview while attending a meeting in Gauhati, capital of neighboring Assam state.
Angami, the former guerrilla leader, said: ″A piecemeal solution to the insurgency problem will not bring lasting peace in Nagaland. If the Indian government signs an agreement with one group, leaving aside the rest, guns will continue to boom.″