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Nagas Ask the Price of Peace
By JILL McGIVERING
bbc.co.uk, Feb. 28, 2003
Photo: Naga rebels
The troubled Indian state of Nagaland, largely sealed off from the outside world, is the home of one of the world's longest running insurgencies.
Militant groups from the Naga tribes are opposed to Indian administration and demand recognition as an independent people.
Now a tentative ceasefire is in place but even the militants signed up to peace talks with Delhi are busy preparing for renewed violence.
The crisis has gripped the state for more than half a century.
I watched as an Indian army officer briefed his troops for the day and talked of 'area domination and patrolling.'
'Area domination' is a polite term for military control.
The men on patrol were some of the tens of thousands of Indian security forces in Nagaland.
No-one knows exactly how many people have died in the conflict, but some estimate that between 100,000 and 200,000 have been killed.
Indian officer Akhilesh Sharma told me his job was to protect local villagers.
'We are just considering it as confidence building measures for the locals. In case of any problem they can count on us and we'll always be there to help them.'
To find the militants, we had to walk deep into the jungle, led by fighters from the National Socialist Council of Nagaland I.-M.
It is the main militant faction, now engaged in a tentative peace process with the central government in Delhi.
The B.B.C. were the first T.V. team they had ever brought to see their training camp.
Inside a large encampment, cleared of jungle, and cut into dirt terraces, we found more than 400 new recruits.
The recruits were cautious about talking to us - but Akato, a 23 year old, told me his father, grandfather and uncle had died fighting India.
He said it was his duty to take up the cause and held that he was not asking for anything that did not belong to him.
'I am asking for something that belongs to me and my nation. I believe Nagas are not asking for anything extra,' said Akato.
'From the very beginning, Nagaland was for Nagas only. We never came under any country.'
All the young volunteers seemed passionate as they marched and saluted. There might be a ceasefire now but they wanted to be ready in case it collapsed.
In the villages, it is hard to know what most people think.
One villager, Dr. Vizol, said the violence had made them too frightened to speak out.
'No-one wants to get killed, like that, you know, just for nothing. Just by expressing something. You just don't want to get killed,' said Dr. Vizol.
Some villagers told me privately that they wanted peace and welcomed the Indian security forces for providing protection.
Others spoke of a generation gap.
It seems urbanised youth want a modern lifestyle and are less committed to the independence struggle.
But these are dangerous thoughts to voice.
Kaka Iralo, a writer and journalist, said: 'The younger generation, including myself, we're all fed up of the war. And yet on the other hand, we cannot sell our birthright or forget our history and pretend to be something that we are not.'
He added that such thoughts defined his political existence as a nation.
Almost all the people of Nagaland are Christians.
They are also culturally and ethnically different from the rest of India and speak distinct tribal languages.
A general longing for peace is clear.
But after half a century of bloodshed, it is uncertain what price these people - and the armed groups which claim to represent them - will be prepared to pay.