Meghalaya: Dangerous Relapse
On December 10, 2012, Police arrested five Liberation Achik Elite Force (LAEF) cadres from the border area of Ri Bhoi District while they were distributing demand notes to quarry owners in areas around Pilangkata and Killing.
One of the arrestees, Lakman was involved in a recent shootout with the Police at Nongshram in West Khasi Hills District. On December 5, Police in West Khasi Hills rescued a businessman, identified as Dinesh Dubey, from Uttar Pradesh after a shootout with a group of LAEF militants.
Dubey was abducted for ransom from Shahlang in West Khasi Hills District of Meghalaya. The militants were arrested in a follow up operation after the rescue of the businessman.
In the night of December 5, 2012, a coal labourer from Assam was shot dead by suspected Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) cadres in his tent at Rajaju in South West Khasi Hills District, allegedly for 'helping the Police'.
On November 23, 2012, the Breakaway faction of the Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC-B) militants attacked Meghalaya Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) working President, Deborah Marak, at Rongbingrre in East Garo Hills District. While escaping from the area, Marak, her sister and other women supporters sustained injuries.
Earlier, on November 10, 2012, ANVC-B targeted a Police vehicle and civilians in the heart of the Nangalbibra Market in the South Garo Hills District by firing indiscriminately at innocent civilians , resulting in the death of two persons and injuries to six others.
On November 22, 2012, SFs arrested two ANVC militants as they were extorting money from a businessman in the Araimile Market in Tura, West Garo Hills District.
On August 14, 2012, Meghalaya Police detected and defused a grenade planted underneath a flag pole set up by the Hyniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) at Phot Jaud village, about 28 kilometers from Mawkyrwat in South West Khasi Hills District. The grenade was concealed near the flag pole on which the outfit unfurled its flag to mark its 25th raising day.
In the afternoon of August 14, 2012, West Garo Hills Police conducted an operation inside North Garo Hills District and shot dead two militants, including the 'commander-in-chief', identified as Waiston Marak alias Way, of the newly formed Garo militant outfit A'chik National Unit Force (ANUF). The other militant killed was an 'area commander', identified as Jakriel Sangma alias Rocky. The Police recovered an AK rifle and a revolver used by the two militants with several rounds of live ammunition, along with incriminating documents. Superintendant of Police Mukesh Singh disclosed, "The AK-81 was given on loan by the Ranjan Daimary faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-RD). The arrested militants have also revealed to us that they had plans to buy new weapons and a sum of INR 150,000 had been kept aside for the same." The incident took place when the Police followed the duo, who were travelling in a vehicle from Tura to Rari village in Bajengdoba. The movement of the militants was revealed after one of the group's members, identified as Roring Sangma alias Gud, was arrested by Police in civilian clothes from the Ringrey Market in Tura on August 13, 2012. Sangma also confessed that the outfit had plans to abduct a businessman from Rari village. Based on his confession, Police teams fanned out into different parts of Tura and managed to arrest Bilchang R. Sangma aka Racheng of Rongrekgre village and Impu B. Marak alias Bijoy Marak of Rongchandalgre village. Racheng was the 'western commander' of the militant group. According to sources, the new group, ANUF, has been behind a string of kidnappings and extortion operations in the three Garo Hills districts.
Further, according to a June 21, 2012, report, a new formation, the Hynniewtrep People's Liberation Front (HPLF), has reportedly been floated in Khasi-Jaintia Hills Districts by some surrendered HNLC cadres. Sources also indicated that the outfit was led by Joplang Lyngdoh as its 'chairman', Thrang Marwein as 'general secretary' and DL Sawkmie as 'information secretary'. On June 23, 2012, however, the State Police indicated that they had no information about this newly floated outfit.
The 'peaceful' state of Meghalaya is now plagued by the new militant groups - HPLF and ANUF - reportedly formed in mid-2012; GNLA, formed in 2009 and led by former ANVC leader Sohan D. Shira; ANVC-B 'discovered' in March 2012; and also the revival of older formations, including LAEF, formed in 2005; ANVC in1995 and in a ceasefire agreement since 2004; and HNLC, raised in 1992]. Despite some incidents of violence by other militant outfits, the GNLA continues to be involved in the maximum number incidents in the State since its formation, towards the end of 2009.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, insurgency related fatalities increased to 48 in 2012, as against 29 in 2011. More worryingly, civilian fatalities increased to 27 in 2012 from just 11 in 2011. Similarly, militant fatalities increased to 19 in 2012 as compared to eight killed in 2011. On the contrary, fatalities among the Security Forces (SFs) have declined to just two in 2012, as against 10 in 2011.
Significantly, intensive operations against the GNLA have been on virtually since formation of the outfit.
Of the 27 civilian fatalities, 22 killings involve the GNLA; two, the ANVC-B; and three were unspecified. Of the 18 militants killed, 15 belonged to GNLA; two to ANUF and one was unspecified. Of the two SF fatalities, the GNLA was involved in one incident, while the Assam based United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the GNLA were suspected to be involved in the other incident.
The State recorded 20 incidents of extortion in 2012, as against nine in 2011 (this offence is highly under-reported, with quiet compliance often the rule). Of the reported incidents, GNLA was involved in 15, LAEF in three, ANVC in one, while one was unspecified.
Police intelligence now believes that the GNLA and ANVC-B high commands have lost their influence over local leaders and cadres, with many of these no longer functioning under any direct command, and, instead, using their own discretion to extort money and intimidate the civilian population in the three Districts of the Garo Hills region. A February 27, 2012, report also states that the Khasi Hills-based militant group, HNLC, is now concentrating on the Jaintia Hills and West Khasi Hills Districts for their extortion activities. A senior Police officer claimed that the State Government had neutralised HNLC in the State capital, Shillong, but its cadres continued to extort money from cement plants and coal barons in Jaintia Hills and West Khasi Hills.
The State recorded 39 abductions in 21 recorded incidents of abduction in 2012 as compared to 10 abductions in seven reported incidents in 2011. In 2012, the GNLA was found to be involved in 11 incidents; LAEF in two; Rabha Viper Army (RVA) in one; ANVC-B in one; while four incidents were non-attributable. In one case, six employees of a Garo Hills-based coal exporter were abducted by GNLA from Gausapara Coal Export Point, 35 kilometres from Baghmara, the headquarters of South Garo Hills District, on April 6, 2012.
Out of the 92 militants arrests in the State through 2012, 55 belonged to GNLA; nine to ANVC-B; eight to LAEF; two to ANVC; one to HNLC; three to ANUF. The remaining militants belonged to neighboring States, including four of the ULFA (Assam); three of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) (Manipur); one from Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) (Manipur); two from the Ranjan Daimary Faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-RD) (Assam), one from RVA (Assam) and one from Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) (West Bengal and Assam). One significant arrest included GNLA 'chairman' Champion R. Sangma from the Umkrem-Pyrdiwah area in the East Khasi Hills District, on the Indo-Bangladesh border, after he was 'pushed back' by Bangladesh on July 30, 2012. In a further setback to the GNLA, the outfit's 'foreign secretary'Briansim Marak alias Bikdot Nikjang was arrested by Bangladesh Security Forces on December 15, 2012, from the Madhupur area of Bangladesh, and was jailed there. The GNLA leader was arrested by the Bangladesh Police based on inputs provided by Meghalaya Police. Nikjang had earlier acted as both political and publicity secretary of the GNLA.
The state also recorded 17 encounters during the year, of which 15 involves the GNLA; one, the ANUF; and one, LAEF. In the most significant of these incidents, on April 5, 2012, SF personnel killed four GNLA militants who were involved in setting ablaze 14 coal-laden trucks on March 31, 2012, at Mongpangro near Keragalram village near Mendipathar in East Garo Hills District.
The total number of militants to surrender during the year was 14, of which nine belonged to GNLA and five to HNLC.
In five bomb explosions recorded in the State through 2012, the GNLA was involved in three, while the other two could not be attributed.
The year also saw the arrest of 123 Bangladeshi infiltrators in the State. On October 5, 2012, ANVC-B 'chairman' Rimpu Marak called for "unity among all the tribes to fight against infiltrators." Marak called on all tribals protected under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to unite against infiltrators, who, he said, were crossing borders at an 'alarming rate'. He also emphasized the need to introduce the Inner Line Permit (ILP) or any similar system to check the flow of outsiders into the State.
The year also saw growing links between GNLA and the Anti-Talks Faction of ULFA (ULFA-ATF) with the latter seeking to maintain an open corridor through Meghalaya for movement into hideouts in Bangladesh.
Another worrying factor has been the eagerness of certain militant groups to 'participate' in the upcoming Assembly election of 2013. On September 20, 2012, GNLA 'chairman', Champion R. Sangma stated that the outfit would support the Congress party, except in two constituencies, in the upcoming 2013 Assembly elections, evoking a sharp reaction from political parties in the State who have alleged that some Congress leaders may have a nexus with the militant outfit. A September 19, 2012, report also noted that GNLA 'chairman' Champion Sangma, who has been booked in a total of nine cases and is presently in judicial custody, had decided to contest 2013 Assembly elections.
Reports also indicate that the ANVC-B has decided to jump onto the poll bandwagon and is organizing a mass awareness campaign on adult franchise and democratic rights. The ANVC-B has also declared a non-cooperation movement against the legislators of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) and its Chief P.K. Sangma. ANVC-B has declared that bandhs (shut down strikes) and other democratic protests had failed to make any impact on the Government, and so the outfit would initiate mass awareness on adult franchise and democratic rights. The group has been demanding the resignation of GHADC Chief Executive Member (CEM) Purno K. Sangma on charges of corruption and misappropriation of council funds. On October 14, 2012, the ANVC-B has also predicted that the 2013 Assembly elections in Garo Hills would not be peaceful due to the presence of illegal weapons in the area. According to them, several gangs are being sponsored by politicians by providing them with arms.
ANVC publicity secretary, Arist Sangma, however, asserted that his outfit, currently under ceasefire, would not meddle in the 2013 election. HNLC is yet to make its stand clear on the elections.
An October 5, 2012, report observed that the Meghalaya Government was facing an uphill task in the run up to the Assembly elections, as it has to contain the activities of several militant groups in the State. Four principal militant formations - HNLC in Khasi Hills and GNLA, ANVC and ANVC-B in Garo Hills - can play a crucial role in influencing the outcome of elections if the candidates fall into the 'temptation' of making use of these militants to further their cause.
Not surprisingly, on October 2, 2012, Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma admitted to a politician-militant 'nexus' in the State and warned lawmakers that they would not be spared if they turned law-breakers. Later, on October 31, 2012, the outgoing Deputy General of Police (DGP), N. Ramachandran, reaffirmed the nexus between militants and politicians in the State, noting that the Police department had received inputs on State politicians hobnobbing with militants. However, he ruled out the possibility of a nexus between political parties and militant groups in the State.
The Government, meanwhile, has shown little or no interest in the demands of the various militant groups, despite their offer of talks. An August 9, 2012, report indicated that the GNLA had announced its willingness to end its armed struggle if the Central Government was ready to accept its demand for creation of a separate State for the Garos, carved out of the present State of Meghalaya. However, Shambu Singh, Joint Secretary (Northeast) in the Union Home Ministry, dismissed such an eventuality on August 10, 2012, stating, "They (the rebels) are always welcome to come out and face trial for their criminal activities. But we are not keen to hold talks with them".
Also, according to a November 19, 2012, report, the Centre has left it to the State Government to decide on the ANVC demand for a Garoland Autonomous Council (GAC) and the desire of ANVC-B to hold talks with the Government. The State Government is now reportedly preparing a draft agreement with the ANVC. On September 27, 2012, the tripartite ceasefire agreement which was signed in 2004 with the ANVC was extended for one more year, following a joint ceasefire monitoring meeting.
On its 25th Raising Day on August 14, 2012, the HNLC stated it was ready to come forward for dialogue with the Government. Maintaining that the Government should be serious while holding the dialogue, Cheristerfield Thangkhiew, HNLC 'general secretary', declared that the group would not hesitate to take up arms again if there is any lack of seriousness on the part of the Government to address the issues raised by the outfit. On August 28, 2012, however, the State Government brushed aside the HNLC's offer of talks, arguing that the rebel outfit first has to lay down arms and shun violence.
The mushrooming of new militant groups, the emergence of breakaway groups, the reactivation of old groups, escalating demands, and delayed solutions have been worsened by the visible politician-militant nexus currently dominates the State scenario. With various militant groups continuing to engage in violence, and evidence of rising trends in militant activities, Meghalaya is once again being pushed to the verge of a relapse that could wipe out the early gains of the State's return to relative peace.
(The writer Veronica Khangchian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)