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. Since July 23, 2004, the ANVC is under an extended ceasefire agreement with the government. Still, extortion in the West Khasi Hills, East Garo Hills and South Garo Hills districts is being carried out by the group. The militants of ANVC have established a finance-sharing understanding with the NSCN-IM targeting the coal belt areas of West Khasi Hills and East Garo Hill. Both ANVC and NSCN-IM are using newly formed militant outfits, like the Atong Liberation Army (ALA) in South Garo Hills, and Achik National Security Defence (ANSD) in West Khasi Hills, to maintain extortion drives in the coal-belt areas.

However, HNLC’s top leadership, based in Bangladesh, continue 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. It received further setback with the July 24, 2007 surrender of the outfit’s chairman Julius Dorphang. He, along with four other militants left the outfit’s camp in Bangladesh’s Maulvi Bazar district and surrendered to the authorities in Shillong.

Tough counter-insurgency operations and deterioration in its cadre strength have led HNLC to join hands with the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), with which it now runs an extortion network in the West Khasi Hills. The HNLC has also renewed its alliance with the NSCN-IM, particularly to retain control over HNLC cadres on the verge of surrender.

Following the ceasefire agreement between the government and the ANVC and the subsequent confinement of the ANVC cadres in the designated camps, Garo Hills of Meghalaya has been peaceful. Since 2004, 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.

Between 1992 and 2009 (till July), at least 383 insurgency related fatalities were recorded in Meghalaya. The militancy related fatalities have been showing a continuously diminishing trend since 2003. From 79 fatalities in 2003, the number reduced to 12 in 2008. There was no civilian fatality in 2008 (Source: www.satp.org). According to police records, a total of 105 militants were neutralized in the state in 2008. Of these, 78 were arrested, 15 surrendered and 11 others were killed.

Meghalaya 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. Further, Meghalaya’s Block-I and Block-II areas adjoining Assam have witnessed extortion activities by outfits such as the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS). Again, Pakistan's external intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is also reported to be consolidating its network in Meghalaya. The state capital Shillong is becoming a hub for trading of illegal small arms and explosives, which are brought through the Garo hills or Mizoram.

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.

However, compared to other northeastern states, Meghalaya is quite peaceful. A latest report of the Ministry of Home Affairs in June 2009 states that Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura are having the lowest insurgency-related activities in the Northeast.