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Nagaland, Assam ready for out-of-court settlement of border dispute: Neiphiu Rio

Kohima/Guwahati, January 24

The governments of Nagaland and Assam are ready for an out-of-court settlement of the long-pending inter-state boundary dispute between the two northeastern neighbours, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said here on Monday.

Rio said that Nagaland and Assam delegations are likely to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah in February to discuss and formulate how to go about the settlement.

The Nagaland Assembly’s select committee to examine the border issue held an hour-and-a-half closed-door meeting, a day after Rio, his deputy Y Patton and NPF legislature party leader T R Zeilang met Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma at Guwahati on Sunday.

“We had gone to Guwahati and had fruitful discussions on the border issue with Sarma. Nagaland and Assam had jointly taken up the matter with Union Home Minister Amit Shah on December 23, 2020.

“Both the state governments are in favour of an out-of-court settlement, and maybe our teams will meet Shah in the first part of February to discuss and formulate how to go about it,” Rio told reporters here.

The issue of royalty on petroleum and natural gas along the Assam-Nagaland border was also discussed.

“If we resolve the border dispute and the issue of royalty, it will be good for both sides as we are going to remain neighbours,” Rio said.

Asked about the delay in getting the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) report on the killing of 14 civilians by security forces in Mon district, the chief minister said that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) has completed the probe and is awaiting the forensic report.

“Without the CFSL report, the findings will be incomplete, and there will be no evidence or scientific proof to proceed further,” Rio said.

Asked whether Nagaland will get a forensic laboratory, the chief minister said that he will take up the matter with Shah.

On Konyak Union and Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organisation giving a call to boycott Republic Day celebrations in protest against the killings, Rio said they are asking the government only to hoist the Tricolour in public offices.

“They can say whatever they want in a democracy but the government will also do whatever it deems necessary,” he said.

On demands for carving out more districts since the creation of Tseminyu, Nuiland and Chumukedima districts on December 18 last year, Rio said that the state government believes in tribal unity and has decided not to divide any existing tribal district.

“There are demands for division of Mon, Mokokchung, Zunheboto, Wokha and Phek districts. But the fragmentation of tribal districts is not in the interest of Nagas. I appeal to various tribal organisations to understand this policy of the government for the welfare of Nagas as a whole,” he said.

The inter-state boundary dispute erupted after Nagaland state was carved out of Assam in 1963. The two states share a 512.1-km-long border.

The Nagaland State Act of 1962 had defined the state’s borders as per a 1925 notification when Naga Hills and Tuensang Area (NHTA) were integrated into a new administrative unit and made an autonomous area.

Nagaland, however, did not accept the boundary delineation and demanded that the new state should comprise the Naga Hills and all Naga-dominated areas in the then North Cachar and Nagaon districts of Assam, which were part of Naga territory, created by the British according to an 1866 notification.

Since Nagaland did not accept its notified borders, tensions between Assam and Nagaland soon flared up resulting in the first border clashes in 1965 and this was followed by major clashes between the two states along the border in 1968, 1979, 1985, 2007 and 2014.

The Assam government had filed a case in the Supreme Court in 1988 for identification of the boundary and resolving the border dispute which is still pending.

“The Nagaland issue is before the Supreme Court and we can expect a verdict in perhaps two-three years,” Sarma had earlier said.

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