The villager was executed by the GNLA on the allegation that he was a Police informer. The GNLA cadres fled the scene after the killing.
GNLA also carried out a major attack (resulting in three or more fatalities), on September 16, 2013, when it attacked a village in Garobadha region, 32 kilometres from Tura in the West Garo Hills District, shooting dead three persons, including a youth and two women, in the night. Police allege that the GNLA had demanded INR 500,000 each from the families of the two victims (the third person killed was a woman trying to fight off the attackers) some time ago. The victims had reportedly made a partial payment to the armed group, but that failed to deter the killers.
According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the GNLA has killed 11 civilians, out of the total of 19 civilians killed in the State in 2013 [data till October 13, 2013].
Recent incidents of civilians killed, often after branding them as Police informers or collaborators, by GNLA, include:
September 3, 2013: A 10 member GNLA 'execution squad' killed a GNLA 'deserter' at an unspecified location.
August 20, 2013: Suspected GNLA militants killed a villager, Jenifar N. Sangma (47), in front of his family in the Rangmai village of Ruga region in South Garo Hills District. 13 heavily armed GNLA militants under the command of Kongsil, came to the village and targeted Sangma's family on suspicion that they were Police collaborators. While the militants dragged out and shot Sangma dead, they severely assaulted his teenage son.
August 12, 2013: Suspected GNLA militants shot dead Hawart G. Momin at Rongcheck Akong in East Garo Hills District, accusing him of being a Police informer. Police recovered five empty cases of INSAS and 7.65 pistol shots from the spot.
August 10, 2013: Suspected GNLA militants killed a village elder identified as Simon Ch Marak in East Garo Hills after accusing him of being a Police collaborator.
The Security Forces (SFs) have been on an Operation against the outfit since its formation in 2009, and have secured some successes against the group this year. According to SATP data, of the total 18 militants killed thus far, nine were connected with GNLA. No SF personnel have been killed by the outfit, despite several reported encounters.
In an incident which greatly angered GNLA, the 'second in command' of the outfit's 'central command', Pilon M. Sangma alias Markus, was shot dead in a three-hour-long encounter with the East Garo Hills Police at Bansamgre village in East Garo Hills District in the morning of July 19, 2013. Another GNLA cadre, who reportedly sustained injuries, succumbed later.
On August 7, 2013, reportedly to avenge the death of its leader, GNLA militants triggered an improvised explosive device (IED) blast targeting six Police personnel travelling in a bullet proof truck at Nengkhra in the East Garo Hills District. Though there were no casualties, the vehicle was damaged. The IED blast was reportedly executed by a special team of the GNLA under direct operational command of its 'chief' Sohan D. Shira .The Assam-based Independent faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I), is suspected to have supplied the IED to the GNLA.
In another significant operation on August 23, 2013, the 'general headquarters' of the GNLA inside the jungles of Durama Hills in East Garo Hills District, was neutralized by SFs and one militant was reportedly shot dead. Police sources disclosed that, when the attack was launched on the camp, the militants returned fire and the gun battle lasted over an hour. The destruction of the camp is said to be a major blow for GNLA 'chief' Shira, since it housed the outfit's cadres and was also used to provide training to new recruits.
On June 29, 2013, GNLA had threatened to launch a 'street war' against SFs if the Government continued its anti-insurgency operations and brought more forces into the Garo Hills.
GNLA's links with ULFA-I are also a matter of serious concern. An August 24, 2013, report noted that GNLA had planned to train a new batch of over 150 cadres in their new general headquarters camp located deep inside the Durama hills of East Garo Hills bordering the southern District, with support from ULFA-I, when SFs attacked the site on August 23, 2013.
Further, on July 30, 2013, an ULFA-I explosive expert, identified as Sanjit Rabha, who was deputed by the ULFA-I to train GNLA militants in bomb making, was shot dead in an encounter with the Police near Tura in the West Garo Hills District. Rabha was with a group of GNLA cadres at Rongkugre, which falls under Dobasipara Police outpost, when SWAT commandos raided the area.
In 2012, 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. More recently, on July 21, 2013, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma hinted that the State Government was willing to hold talks with GNLA, observing, "We have to continue necessary measures to neutralise militant outfits but at the same time, doors for achieving sustained peace cannot be closed." The Chief Minister noted that the Government would be receptive to any proposal from any outfit to take part in the peace process. However, in 2012, Mukul Sangma had declared that there was 'no question' of holding dialogue with the GNLA.
Further, an August 8, 2013, report suggested that, with no end to militancy-related violence in the Garo Hills, former Chief Minister S.C. Marak felt that the GNLA should be included in the peace process with the Government. According to Marak, when the Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) was created, there was chaos and havoc in the Garo Hills; but after peace talks with ANVC, there was relative peace. This, however, has been shattered by the emergence of GNLA.
Besides Breakaway faction of ANVC (ANVC-B) and United A'chik Liberation Army (UALA), the GNLA remains a major threat to peace in the state. The three outfits were once part and parcel of the mother organization ANVC.
Despite its offer of talks, on August 18, 2013, GNLA rejected a proposal by the ANVC-B to the Government to have a 'Territorial Council', with strengthening of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC). GNLA insists that it would continue to pursue its goal for a Garoland State. The outfit's 'publicity secretary' Pantera Singgasik declared, "ANVC-B has mooted for a Territorial Council. We wish them the best. As far as GNLA is concerned we will seek nothing short of a separate State for the Garos." On August 1, 2013, the Centre had reached an agreement with the ANVC and ANVC-B under which the autonomy of the GHADC would be enhanced. Disclosing this during a press conference, Union Home Minister, SushilKumar Shinde announced that the agreement would be placed before the Cabinet for approval and that, "We expect that the signing of the agreement with the ANVC will improve the situation in the area (Garo Hills)."
On July 15, 2013, ANVC-B leader Doang D. Shira issued a statement asserting that making Sohan D. Shira a part of a peace pact between the ANVC and the Government could change the situation in the Garo Hills and, "We are open and ready to include Sohan in the signing of the peace pact." The ANVC-B was part of the tripartite dialogue held on January 5, 2013, between the ANVC, the Centre and the Meghalaya Government. Following the dialogue, a draft text for settlement of the ANVC issue through the enhancement of powers of the existing GHADC was signed.
On July 17, 2013, however, GNLA categorically rejected the ANVC-B offer of joining the peace talks, and accused the latter formation of collaborating with the Meghalaya Government in "eliminating" GNLA cadres. In response to Doang D. Shira's statement inviting GNLA to join the ongoing peace process, Sohan D. Shira reiterated that such a proposal from the rival outfit could not be entertained, since there was an ongoing move by the State Government in collaboration with the ANVC-B to try and bring GNLA to its knees. However, Sohan Shira has expressed willingness to engage with the Delhi, declaring, "We will talk to the Centre, not with the ANVC."
On June 5, 2013, while addressing the Conference of Chief Ministers on internal security, Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma expressed concern over the rise in GNLA's unlawful activities. Sangma noted, "Even though internal security situation in Meghalaya continues to be stable and under control, the GNLA remains a matter of concern." He also cautioned that insurgents from neighbouring states used the long and porous Bangladesh border along Meghalaya to their advantage and raised concerns over rising militancy in the Hill State due to the lack of development and thin Police presence. Chief Minister Sangma noted that the remote and inaccessible Garo Hills area had a low Police-population ratio and the five districts in the region had just 16 Police Stations, leaving vast tracts of land practically outside the Police network. During the course of counter-insurgency operations, he observed, SFs often trekked three to four days to reach certain remote locations. In sum, he noted, "Due to the porous border with Bangladesh, various militant groups active in the neighbouring states have been using the Garo Hills as a corridor for sneaking in and out of Bangladesh with relative ease. These militant outfits have, over the years, trained and nurtured various Garo militant groups. There is, therefore, a need for increasing the Police presence in the interior areas of the Garo Hills region to improve the response time of Police."
It is, however, not quite clear what the Chief Minister is complaining about. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for end 2012, Meghalaya has a rather healthy Police-population ratio of 426 per 100,000, as against India's anemic average of 138. If there is a deficit in deployment and establishment of Police Stations in some parts of the State, this is squarely the failure of the State Government and the State Police administration.
Meghalaya's new Director General of Police (DGP), Peter James Pyngrope Haneman has expressed the view that strong political will was required to tackle the problem of militancy: "It is important that the strategy adopted by the Police to tackle the problem of militancy should have a political back up. The basic objective in dealing with the problem of militancy is to bring back the misguided youth into the mainstream."
The 'lack of political will' has long been shorthand for a wide range of ailments in administration and governance, and it is clear that these continue to create spaces for the cyclical resurrection of insurgent violence in Meghalaya. Meghalaya's insurgencies are now deeply degraded, and have limited capacities. It is nothing but the failure of the political and police leadership of the State that they have not yet been entirely neutralized.
(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)
--IBNS (Posted on 16-10-2013)