NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India signed a peace agreement on Monday with a leading tribal separatist group in the country’s northeast that had waged guerrilla war for six decades against central rule from New Delhi.
Officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government signed the accord with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), one of several separatist groups active in the remote and underdeveloped northeastern region bordering on China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
The NSCN-IM has been fighting for an independent ethnic Naga homeland uniting parts of the mountainous northeast 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,” Modi said at a televised news conference alongside the NSCN-IM secretary-general Thuingaleng Muivah, a co-founder of the rebel group.
The terms of the agreement were not immediately known. Modi’s government has said 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 northeast have been among my highest priorities. It is also at the heart of my foreign policy, especially Act East,” Modi said, referring to efforts to forge closer ties with Southeast Asia.
Militants in the northeast have stepped up attacks against India’s armed forces this year. Guerrillas killed 20 soldiers in Manipur, which borders Nagaland, in June 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 northeast 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 and in the northeast, 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 weapons,” Modi said at the signing ceremony in his official residence.
Reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Tom Heneghan