New projects, not fencing, needed on India-Myanmar border: Nagaland CM

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Agartala, Sep 25 The Indian government should not fence the India-Myanmar border and, instead, undertake developmental projects, Nagaland Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang has said, adding that restrictions on various construction activities in border areas need to be relaxed.

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"The government of India should abandon its plan to erect fencing along the India-Myanmar border... (it) must carry out developmental projects and build infrastructure, specially roads, along the border with Myanmar," Zeliang told IANS in an interview.

Four northeastern states -- Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh -- "have already told the central government to stop its plans to fence the India-Myanmar border. The Union government is considering the proposal", said Zeliang, who was here to attend the third North East Connectivity Summit.

Security would not be compromised if the border is unfenced, he contended.

"With developmental projects, people residing along the border would come together in a large way. Thus, inimical elements, including extremists, would not get scope for their nefarious and criminal activities," the Chief Minister maintained.

Four northeastern states -- Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Manipur (398 km), Nagaland (215 km) and Mizoram (510 km) -- share a 1,643-km unfenced border with Myanmar.

"While everybody knows the logic behind fencing India's land borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh, this logic does not apply to India's land border with Myammar. In Nagaland, the international boundary does not follow a river or other landmarks. Rather, it follows the watershed principle."

He said that since Nagas and other tribals in northeast India generally set up their villages on hill-tops, the international boundary divides many villages into two. In the case of Longwa village in Mon district, for instance, the international boundary runs through the middle of the 'Angh's' (village chief's) house, where half of it is in India and the other half in Myammar.

"I cite this example to show how badly the Nagas and their ancestral lands have been divided by the India-Myammar border.

"Naturally, the villagers have to continue their movement across the international boundary almost on a daily basis for their agricultural and various other activities. Hence, border fencing is not a viable proposition," Zeliang explained.

"Another peculiar character of this sector is that in spite of the open and unguarded border, and in spite of the free-movement regime, there has been practically no migration of the native Nagas across the international border. This is basically because of the strong attachment the Nagas have for their ancestral land and because of their traditional land-holding system."

He demanded that restrictions on various construction activities in border areas need to be relaxed.

"The Defence and Home Ministries have imposed various restrictions on construction and other development activities within 25 km of aerial distance from the international border due to security concerns. In the hilly terrain this distance can mean a lot," he added.

On the peace talks with National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), the chief minister said that that Nagas want peace and development and early solutions of their long-standing problems.

"Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) and Home Minister (Rajnath Singh) have informed us that the government has opted for a time-bound discussion to resolve the decades-old Naga problem," Zeliang added.

The centre and the NSCN-IM entered into a ceasefire agreement in August 1997. More than 52 rounds of talks have been held to end the insurgency that is said to have claimed 25,000 lives since 1947.

The NSCN-IM has been fighting for an independent Nagaland for over six decades. But since the peace talks began, it has scaled down the demand to a "Greater Nagaland", including parts of three neighbouring states to unite areas inhabited by around 1.5 million Nagas.

The three states -- Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh -- have opposed the demand.

IANS

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