Oil cartel eyes Nagaland; factional strife in guerilla struggle

Canada’s Canoro Resources has signed an agreement with India’s parastatal Oil & Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) to explore for crude in the jungles of Nagaland, a state in the country’s remote northeast, where large swaths of territory have been controlled by separatist guerillas for decades. Nagaland Industry & Commerce Minister Khekhiho Zhimomi said the predominantly Christian state of two million has the potential to yield some 600 million tons of crude. “Nagaland is literally sitting on a multi-million dollar oil reserve,” Zhimomi said. Exploration work undertaken by ONGC in 1994 was suspended following threats from the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM). This time Zhimomi says things will be different: “We have the full support of the local people this time while executing the agreement with the ONGC. We hope there should be no problems now.”

Canoro is now a partner at the Kharshing oilfield in Arunachal Pradesh, and has long sought to expand operations into Nagaland. “Despite being geographically located in one of the most prospective areas, there has been virtually no exploration activity in Nagaland for over 12 years and limited activity prior to that,” a Canoro statement said.

Zhimomi pledges oil exploitation will bring economic strides for Nagaland. “There is no point in not letting the resources be tapped,” he said. “By striking oil, we would not only be earning revenue, but at the same time such ventures would ease the spiralling unemployment problem in the state.”

Nagaland is also rich in coal, limestone, nickel, cobalt, chromium, magnetite, copper, zinc, platinum, marble and granite. The government recently adopted the “minor minerals policy” to make exploration work possible in the region. (Indo-Asian News Service, April 11)

The deal comes against the backdrop of renewed peace talks beween the government and the NSCN-IM—and fresh clashes between rival Naga guerilla factions. Clashes in March between the NSCN-IM and the rival NSCN-Khaplang faction left several fighters dead. (Press Trust of India, March 26)

Last year, the NSCN-IM expressed skepticism about proposals for renewed talks. “India is trying to test our patience by prolonging the peace process,” RH Raising, a senior NSCN-IM leader, told Reuters. “Such attitude of the Indian government will put at risk all peace initiatives in the region.”

The talks were largely stuck over NSCM-IM demands to integrate all Naga-majority areas into a single state with broad autonomy powers. “We are sincere and committed in our efforts to find a peaceful settlement to the Indo-Naga problem, whereas India is committed to peace talks only in letter and not in spirit,” Raising said. If the “casual attitude” of New Delhi officials continued, peace talks would prove futile, he warned.

More than 20,000 were killed in the conflict before the guerillas and the government agreed to a truce in 1997. The ceasefire has held, but the two sides have failed to find a political settlement to the rebellion that began in 1947. New Delhi considers peace with the Nagas crucial to a broader peace in the northeast—seven states connected to the rest of India by a thin strip of land and home to dozens of insurgent groups. (Reuters, Oct. 23)

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