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Hundreds of Nagas offered special prayers Wednesday for the safe arrival of a top self-exiled separatist leader from Amsterdam to begin peace talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi.

Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), is reaching New Delhi later Wednesday while the group’s chairperson Isak Chishi Swu is expected to reach India after Christmas.

The two leaders would be visiting India at the invitation of Manmohan Singh for direct talks to end one of South Asia’s longest running insurgencies spanning about six decades.
This is the second time in 39 years that the NSCN-IM would be holding peace talks on Indian soil. In 2004, Muivah and Swu held talks with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi.

Both Swu and Muivah have been living in self-imposed exile, shuttling between Amsterdam, Bangkok, Manila and other Southeast Asian cities.

The NSCN-IM and New Delhi entered into a ceasefire in August 1997 and it has been renewed regularly. The present ceasefire expires June 2007.

“The two leaders are scheduled to visit Nagaland and hold talks with the community leaders and the cadres to brief them about the progress of the peace negotiations,” another top NSCN-IM leader R.H. Raising said.

The NSCN-IM has been struggling for nearly six decades to create a Greater Nagaland by slicing off parts of three neighbouring states to unite 1.2 million Nagas. The demand is strongly opposed by the states of Assam, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh.

The rebel leadership during talks at Amsterdam in October proposed “a special federal arrangement” that enables the Nagas self-governance although the negotiations ended inconclusively. The rebels are seeking a separate Naga constitution under the special federal relationship.

A seven-member team of top NSCN-IM rebel leaders are camping in New Delhi to receive Muivah Wednesday. “Muivah would be accorded a civic reception by Naga cultural troupes at the airport in New Delhi,” Chawang said.

India and the NSCN-IM have held more than 50 rounds of peace talks in the past nine years to end the violent insurgency that has claimed around 25,000 lives since the country’s independence in 1947.

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