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Ken Sehested, Dan Buttry Continue Mediation Process with Naga Leaders


June 19, 2010 | bpfna

by LeDayne McLeese Polaski
BPFNA Program Coordinator

BPFNA founding director Ken Sehested is traveling to Thailand to be part of crucial peace talks between Naga factions. As Ken shares in his own words below, these talks are part of a long, slow process toward peace — a process in which the BPFNA has been deeply involved for most of its existence. This invitation to Ken speaks both of the leaders' very high hopes for this round of talks and of their sense of the importance of our long-term involvement. BPFNA encourages its members and friends to pray daily for the success of this work — work which has the possibility of creating a peaceful future for a people who have suffered much.

BPFNA founding director Ken Sehested writes....

            In 1993 I was asked to speak at a meeting of the Baptist World Alliance Human Rights Commission, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe. I used the occasion to tell stories of individual Baptists, from around the world and in recent years, taking risks as disciples in the work of justice, peace and human rights. One of the brief stories I told was of Longri Ao, a Baptist pastor and leader in the Naga community of northeast India, who risked his life attempting to mediate the violent conflict affecting the Naga people. Because of a unique missionary history, the majority of the Naga people are Christians, and the majority of the Christians are Baptists.

            Little did I know that another Naga leader was in the audience.

            At the conclusion of that meeting, Dr. Wati Aier, principal of the Oriental Theological Seminary in Dimapur, India, asked if we could talk further. That evening we sat in a coffee shop and talked well into the night. From that providential encounter, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America became engaged in its most ambitious overseas project ever undertaken.

            The Naga people, indigenous to northeast India and northwest Myanmar (Burma), were promised their independence when the British were finally expelled from India. When the government reneged on that promise, a low-intensity conflict broke out that, with occasional periods of calm, continues to this day. As often happens in the struggle against oppression, the Nagas themselves suffered sectarian splits. Currently, three major political parties—each a split from a previous group—vie for leadership authority. Two have heavily armed militias, often in conflict with each other as much as with Indian security forces.

            The aim of our involvement has been to assist these leaders to negotiate their internal differences so that they may then negotiate univocally with the Indian government for a new political future.

            The first major breakthrough came in a 1997 meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia. Additional dialogues occurred in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand. In the course of these series of talks, Dan Buttry, hired to work part-time for the BPFNA, took the lead in shepherding our role in the process.

            Long story short: Hopes are now high that the initial stage for which the BPFNA’s assistance was requested may culminate in Chiang Mai the third week of June. The coordinators of these talks have requested that both Dan (now on assignment with the American Baptist Churches International Ministries) and I be present, as a reminder to these leaders of the many years of work they have invested in this reconciliation process.

            We covet your prayers, specifically for the period of 18-25 June.

—Ken Sehested

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