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India's PM Ends Visit to Nagaland - 2003-10-29

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has concluded a three-day visit to the remote northeastern state of Nagaland, which is the scene of the country's longest-running rebellion. The Indian leader tried to boost efforts to negotiate peace with separatist groups.

During his visit to Nagaland, Prime Minister Vajpayee urged rebel leaders to give up violence and hold meaningful peace talks with the government.

He announced a $250 million program to build roads and other infrastructure in the state and boost employment. He also launched a mobile phone service.

But the prime minister warned that federal assistance alone cannot boost development in the region. He said private investment will not flow in until fighting ends.

Mr. Vajpayee's visit to the remote region was the first by a top Indian leader in six years. Nagaland is virtually sealed off from the rest of the country and has no industrial base.

It is inhabited by nearly two million mostly-Christian people who are culturally and ethnically different from the rest of India.

Militants began fighting for a separate homeland soon after India became independent from Britain in 1947. The insurgency has claimed more than 25,000 lives.

Naga guerrillas signed a cease-fire in 1997 and have held several rounds of talks with the Indian government to end the rebellion. But the truce has been uneasy.

New Delhi's Center for Policy Research political analyst Subhash Kashyap says the prime minister's visit will boost efforts to negotiate peace with the guerrillas.

"The hope is that this peace will continue while negotiations are on the way," he said. "The prime minister has called for patience on all sides and he has emphasized the development effort and issues like employment and building of infrastructure facilities in the northeast and linking it with the rest of India through roads and otherwise."

Progress for the talks has been slow due to demands by separatist leaders that all Naga-inhabited areas in neighboring states be integrated into what they call a "Greater Nagaland."

The demands have led to angry protests in neighboring Assam and Manipur, which are unwilling to lose any territory.

India's northeastern region consists of seven states, and is inhabited by hundreds of ethnic groups. It has been wracked by violence for decades with dozens of tribes fighting over land and politics in a region that remains underdeveloped.

Political analysts say restoring peace in Nagaland would have a positive effect on efforts to end other insurgencies, and integrate the region with the rest of India.