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Baptist Agenda for Peace in Nagalim, India


From George Conklin <gconklin@igc.apc.org>
Date Fri, 06 Feb 1998 16:19:53 -0800 (PST)

6 February 1998
For more information contact:
Ken Sehested, Executive Director/Editor or David Teague, Associate Editor
Phone: 704/456-1881;  Fax: 704/456-1883
Internet: bpfna@primeline.com
or Daniel L. Buttry, Program Coordinator, Gavel Memorial Peace Fund of the
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Phone & Fax: 810/757-1160
Internet: bduttry@mich.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Naga Religious, Political and Civic Organizations Announce Boycott
of Indian Elections, Call for Political Negotiations

The Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), largest religious body in
Nagaland, a state in northeast India, has become the first of several
religious, political and civic organizations to announce support of a
statement calling for the postponement of scheduled state assembly
elections and urging all citizens to express their opposition by displaying
"a white flag or garment on Sunday, 22 February, as a symbolic declaration
of support for a just peace."

Stating that "Because the Nagas want a solution, not an election," the
seven-point statement-"Peace Agenda for Nagalim"*-calls for a continuation
of the cease-fire among all parties in the region; urges "that the on-going
dialogue between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council
of Nagaland [NSCN] be honoured by the parties concerned;" and encourages
every Naga congregation to set aside Sunday, February 22, "for prayer for
the process of building peace, understanding and reconciliation."

Referring to the "Peace Agenda" document, John Sundquist, executive
director of the American Baptist Board of International Ministries (ABBIM),
noted that "the Nagas are providing a powerful witness as they work toward
internal unity" in order to "effectively pursue political negotiations with
the Indian government." Having been "isolated from the world's
consciousness," said Sundquist, "their plight deserves worldwide
attention." Sundquist praised the courage of the NBCC, long-standing ABBIM
mission partner, and its general secretary, Rev. Dr. W. Pongsing, for his
participation and leadership in this initiative.

Dr. Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, echoed
those same sentiments: "Baptists of the world rejoice at the new initiative
for peace in Nagaland. We join in prayer with our brothers and sisters in
Christ as they unite together for freedom and justice in Nagaland."

The "Agenda for Peace" statement has also been endorsed by the NSCN, the
outlawed political party, whose military wing has engaged in violent
confrontation with Indian armed forces for many years, along with numerous
other Naga political and civic groups.

The conflict in northeast India, now ruled under provisions of Indian
martial law, has been referred to as the most unreported situation of civil
strife in modern history. Estimates of fatalities resulting from the
conflict-with Indian security forces and among competing Naga insurgent
groups-range anywhere from 150,000 to 300,000 over the past 50 years.
Severe travel and communication restrictions in the region make it
difficult for journalists to gain access or news to be sent out. One of the
results of numerous failed attempts at resolving the conflict in the region
has been the splintering of the Nagas into competing political parties.

The Naga people, of Mongolian ancestry, are indigenous to what is now
northeast India, northwest Myanmar (formerly Burma) and southern China. It
is estimated that in northeast India some 90% of the Naga population is
Christian with the vast majority of those affiliated with Baptist
congregations, the result of a unique history of Baptist missionary work
from the U.S.

Like most indigenous groups in the area, their historic lands were
arbitrarily split by colonial powers (Great Britain, in this case) between
different modern nation-states. At the close of British colonial rule in
1947 the Nagas were promised their independence by Indian authorities. When
that agreement was later rescinded it prompted an ongoing low-level state
of civil war in the region.

In late July 1997, just prior to a dialog meeting of Naga political,
religious and social groups, hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, by the Baptist
Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA), the NSCN and the Indian
government announced a temporary cease-fire to allow for political
negotiations. The July 1997 Atlanta meeting of Naga leaders produced "The
Atlanta Appeal" calling for unity among the Nagas "by relinquishing old
antagonisms." The statement acknowledged that some of the violence within
the Naga community "has been self-inflicted" and agreed to "strategies to
promote dialog."

Later, following further mediation talks, the NSCN announced a unilateral
cease-fire with other Naga insurgent forces effective during the special
celebrations in Nagaland in late November 1997, marking the 125th
anniversary of the coming of Christian missionaries to the area. As
recently as January 31, 1998, the NSCN and the Indian government agreed to
an extension of the cease-fire between them. According to Naga Baptist
leaders, the result of these cease-fire agreements is that no Nagas have
been killed in military or factional fighting since last November.

# # #

*"Nagalim" is a term recently coined by Naga leaders to distinguish between
the Indian state of Nagaland (created in 1962) and the historic lands of
the Naga people in the region. The word "lim" means "land" in Ao, one of
the Naga dialects. Some three million Nagas, of some 36 tribal groups, live
in a 47,000 square mile region (slightly larger than the state of Ohio in
the U.S.) of northeast India, northwest Myanmar (Burma) and southern China.

AVAILABLE FROM THE BAPTIST PEACE FELLOWSHIP OFFICE:

1) A full text of the "Agenda for Peace in Nagalim."

2) Two photos, with the following captions:

*The slogan, "Nagas want solution, not election," displayed on the sign
shown above by an unidentified leader of the Naga Council of Dimapur,
Nagaland, was created by a coalition of non-government organizations in the
area, including the Naga Hoho, the council of Naga tribal leaders. Photo by
Daniel L. Buttry, Program Coordinator, Gavel Memorial Peace Fund of the
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. (1998 Baptist Peace Fellowship
of North America)

*The demonstration pictured above was taken during the "Day of Prayer in
Support of the Atlanta Talks," (Saturday, July 26, 1997), called to support
mediation talks of leaders of various political, religious and social
institutions in an attempt to peacefully negotiate their internal
conflicts. The meetings, facilitated by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of
North America, were held on July 29-August 2, 1997, at Emory University in
Atlanta, Georgia," and resulted in "The Atlanta Appeal," a statement from
the assembled Naga leaders calling for reconciliation among the various
factions. (1998 Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America)

3) A full text of "The Atlanta Appeal."

Founded in 1984, the BPFNA is a network linking Baptists involved in
justice and peace issues throughout North America. Its board of directors
is composed of members affiliated with 12 Baptist conventions and five
racial/ethnic groups in Canada, the U.S., Puerto Rico and Mexico, plus
representatives from Baptist convention peace and justice offices. The
organization has no official sponsorship of any convention. Its primary
purpose is to encourage greater Baptist involvement-at local, national and
international levels-in justice and peace concerns and to help clarify
understanding of such involvement as essential to Christian discipleship.


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