Overview: Insurgency & Peace Efforts in Meghalaya

Insurgency

nsurgency in Meghalaya started as a movement against the domination of the ‘dkhars’ (outsiders). The Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC) represented the interests of the dominant tribes of the State, the Khasis, Jaintias and the Garos. However, tribal differences led to a split in the HALC in 1992 into the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), representing the Khasis and the Jaintias, and the Achik Matgrik Liberation Army (AMLA) representing the Garos. The AMLA subsequently passed into oblivion to be replaced by the Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC). Whereas the HNLC aims at converting Meghalaya “as a province exclusively for the Khasi tribe and free it from ‘domination’ by the Garo tribe”, the ANVC’s purported objective is to “carve out a homeland called ‘Achik Land’ in the areas of Garo Hills.” Both outfits entered into strategic alliance with other groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), in return for allowing them safe passage as well as providing them with safe houses in the hilly terrains of the State. HNLC’s activities were restricted to the Khasi hills and several of its attacks took place in the State capital Shillong. On successive years, it called for boycott of the Independence Day celebrations on August 15 and its diktats had good impact on the people. Similarly, in Garo Hills, the ANVC held sway.

Sustained counter-insurgency operations, over the years, weakened both the outfits. ANVC first signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 2004 and then a Memorandum of Settlement on 15 December 2014. HNLC is also no longer strong and active. However, its top leadership, based in Bangladesh, continues to resist any type of peace deals. Many of its cadres, however, have either been arrested or have surrendered. While its top leadership continues to be based in Bangladesh, the outfit has been rendered incapable of orchestrating attacks.

Following the ceasefire agreement between the government and the ANVC in 2004 and the subsequent confinement of the ANVC cadres in the designated camps, Garo Hills of Meghalaya were peaceful for many years. However, taking advantage of the vacuum left open by the ANVC, several small outfits emerged and disappeared in quick succession. Prominent among them were the Retrieval Indigenous Unified Front (RIUF), United A'chik National Front (UANF), Hajong United Liberation Army (HULA) etc. Similarly, the Hynniewtrep National Special Red Army (HNSRA) started operations in the Khasi Hills area. In early 2006, the Liberation Achik Elite Force (LAEF) was formed by a former police commando, Peter Marak. The outfit, which is known to have linkages with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), has been involved in few incidents in the Garo hills area. LAEF also maintains linkages with the NSCN-IM and ULFA.

Police operations against the LAEF met with a strategic success with the arrest of the outfit’s chairman Peter Marak and two of his accomplices from a place between Jorabat and Khanapara near Assam capital Dispur on August 21, 2007. On December 7, 2008, LAEF suffered a setback with the killing of its 'commander-in-chief', Kimrey K. Sangma, during an encounter with security forces at Damit village near Shahlang in the West Khasi Hills district. Earlier, on July 1, 2008, Police recovered the dead body of the then 'commander-in-chief' of the outfit, Nicheng Sangma alias Daria Sangma. He was killed during an intra-outfit clash at Parasin in the East Garo Hills district.

On November 18, 2008 nine senior LAEF cadres, including an 'area commander' were arrested from a newly set up camp at Kadambari in the Ri-Bhoi district along Meghalaya-Assam border. In 2008, a total of 23 LAEF militants were arrested and two surrendered to the security forces.

On 2 April 2014, the UALA, ASAK, LAEF, ANLCA and ANCA militant factions amalgamated under the umbrella body of A’chik Revolutionary Front with an aim to create a separate Garoland State in the Garo Hills area.

But, the most ruthless group to be formed in Meghalaya in recent years was the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA). It was formed in 2009 by a former Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of Meghalaya, named Pakchara R. Sangma alias Champion R. Sangma, after deserting the Police Force. He was the 'chairman' of the outfit and Sohan D. Shira, a former ANVC 'area commander' was the 'Commander-in-Chief'. The cadre base of the outfit was mainly formed by deserters from ANVC and LAEF.

GNLA has been involved in several cases of murder, extortion, gun running, and kidnapping in all the three Garo Hills districts in Meghalaya. The outfit received widespread condemnation and notoriety when some of its militants shot a woman through her head, after accusing her of being a police informer and for resisting an attempt to molest her, in a remote village of the state's South Garo Hills district on 3 June 2014.

On 25 July 2014, it killed two police personnel and injured another three constables in an IED attack. They ambushed one police vehicle on 18 November 2014 in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills district, killing two policemen on the spot. In another ambush on 10 March 2015, GNLA killed 4 policemen in Panda Reserve, Rongara, South Garo Hills, Meghalaya

On January 2016, GNLA’s publicity secretary announced that the group had teamed up with other major militant groups operating in the north east so as to be part of the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW), an umbrella group of Northeast Indian insurgent groups.

GNLA, however, was weakened after the arrest of its chairman, Champion Sangma in July 2012. Its commander-in-chief Sohan D. Shira was also killed in an encounter with the security forces on 25 February 2018.

After Sohan D. Shira’s death the last remaining eight members of the GNLA handed over their weapons to the state home minister in the presence of Meghalaya Director General of Police on 12 March 2018. The eight rebels surrendered 2 AK 56 rifles, an INSAS rifle, a foreign made Glock pistol, one semi machine gun (SMG), a .303 rifle, a 9 mm pistol and a large quantity of ammunition.

Meghalaya, however, continues to provide transit passage to groups like the ULFA in their journey between Bangladesh and Assam. The outfit is known to have set up safe houses in the Garo hills region and often stores arms and ammunition in the area.

Between 1992 and 2017, at least 717 insurgency related fatalities were recorded in Meghalaya, of which, 265 were civilians, 117 were security force personnel and 335 were insurgents. The state has witnessed speedy plunge corresponding to insurgency-related incidents in between the years 2014 and 2017. The number of such dropped from 341 in 2014 to 21 in 2017. In 2015, there were 310 insurgency related incidents and 118 in 2016. In 2017, as many as 77 militants were arrested, mostly from GNLA, while 48 cadres had surrendered and six militants were killed with 32 weapons recovered in Meghalaya. (Source: www.satp.org).

Peace Efforts

The Church has played a crucial role towards peace in Meghalaya. While the Shillong Khasi Jaintia Church Leaders Forum was officially designated as the negotiator with the HNLC, the Garo Baptist Convention was instrumental in bringing the ANVC to the peace talks. In 2003, individuals like Garo politician and former speaker of the Lok Sabha P A Sangma offered to mediate between the State and the ANVC. However, the proposal was not acceptable to the state government. Similarly, in the same year, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga offered to negotiate with the State. His proposal was rejected by the state government which said that it will not allow any back door negotiation.

ANVC signed an extended tripartite ceasefire agreement with the Central and the state Government on July 23, 2004. The HNLC had come close to starting a peace process with the state government in 2006. In the last week of April 2006, the HNLC chairman Dorphang requested Chief Minister D. D. Lapang to urge the Centre to expedite the peace process. However, opinion of the state police was not in favour of starting the peace process with the outfit and it prevailed upon the Union Ministry of Home Affairs which delayed the starting of the dialogue. The outfit eventually backtracked from the process citing the state government’s permission to the public sector undertaking, the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd, for uranium mining at Domiasiat in the West Khasi Hills district. Again in October 2008, the HNLC rejected an offer for peace talks by the state government saying that it has no agenda to hold talks with the state government or state police department as they are only actors of the Indian government.

ANVC and its breakaway faction ANVC-B on 15 December 2014 signed a Memorandum of Settlment with the Government.The militants of these two organizations laid down their arms and leaders of both group- Dilash Marak and Bernard N Marak signed the affirmation for disbandment and surrendered their arms before the Chief Minister of Meghalaya in the presence of 500 cadres.

(Updated till April 2018)