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GNLA’s Free Run In Meghalaya’s Garo Hills

POSTED ON 5 JULY 2014

Arunav goswami
senior research fellow,
cDPS

On July 3, 2014, the security forces in Meghalaya engaged in a shootout with the outlawed Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) in the Bolsal Adinggre area near Rongkaminchi, 10 kms from district headquarters Resubelpara in North Garo Hills district of the state. Although no GNLA militants were apprehended during the encounter, substantial quantities of weapons were seized. This included a powerful Claymore Improvised Explosive Device along with a remote controlled device, 19 detonators, two hand grenades, three pistols with ten live rounds and three magazines, seven walkie talkie handsets, 2 AK and 4 SLR magazines, 130 rounds of AK ammo, 4 rounds of SLR and 10 rounds of 7.65 calibre ammunition. Two CRPF jawans were injured in this operation and were airlifted for treatment.

This was one of the fourteen encounters that the security forces in Meghalaya have been engaged in against the GNLA in 2014. The outfit, operating mainly in the Garo Hills region in the state of Meghalaya in Northeast India, has been wrecking havoc in the area since its formation in 2009. It has been involved in attacks against civilians and security forces, abductions and widespread extortion. What is significant is that the outfit, fighting for a 'sovereign Garoland' in the western areas of Meghalaya, has been kidnapping insignificant people, who are actually poor.

In the year 2014, GNLA was involved in the killings of three civilians and abduction of 13 persons. During the month of June alone, the outfit kidnapped 10 persons in the state, which included a teacher, four traders, one shop owner and a bank manager. The profile of the targeted persons shows that GNLA is abducting just about anybody for money. This shows that the outfit is operating solely to extort money and lacks any ideology whatsoever.

In 2014, GNLA cadres killed a 35 year old woman in front of her four children when she resisted an attempt to rape her. The incident took place at Raja Rongat under Chokpot in South Garo Hills district. A handwritten letter was seized from the place of occurrence wherein the GNLA accused the deceased of being a police informer. This incident was condemned widely and spread outrage against the GNLA.

This incident also almost closed the doors for peace talks with the outfit. Meghalaya Governor KK Paul during his Republic Day speech on January 26, 2014, had announced that the Government has offered the path of dialogue to GNLA. The Chief Minister of Meghalaya Mukul Sangma went further ahead saying that an exercise is on to bring the outfit for talks. GNLA in February 17, 2014 said peace talks with the government can be initiated if the government releases its chairman Champion R Sangma from jail, who was arrested by Meghalaya police on July 30, 2012. He was reportedly under Bangladesh custody since November 2011. Before floating the outfit, Sangwa was a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) in Meghalaya. The Ministry of Home Affairs, however, had said that the talks cannot take place without the outfit dropping its demand for a separate Garoland. But after the gruesome killing of the women in South Garo Hills, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma said that Government would re-look into the proposed peace talks with the outfit as it has failed to halt its criminal activities.

On June 29, 2014, the Central government rejected peace talks with the GNLA. It also said that it was ready to strengthen police forces in Meghalaya with a Rs 500-crore assistance. Following the killing of the woman, 15 companies (about 1,500 personnel) of central forces and five teams of the CRPF’s elite CoBRA force were dispatched to Garo Hills. The Centre is ready to send another 1,000 central forces to Garo Hills, along with five more CoBRA units.

The GNLA had also suffered from a split with its former 'finance secretary' Reding T Sangma taking away a few cadres with him and forming a new group Achik Songna Anpachakgipa Kotok (ASAK) on February 12, 2014. Both the groups have been involved in clashes since then, with one group leveling charges against the other for money extortions and abductions. Recently, the outfit was involved in the abduction of a welder working for a local contractor from South Garo Hills on June 27, 2014.

The latest encounter between the security forces and GNLA on July 3 shows that the coming days will witness more such operations. With the Centre increasing the strength of security forces in Meghalaya, the Garo Hills will turn up to be the new battlefield between the security forces and the GNLA, a group which is estimated to have around 200 active cadres. Whatever be the case it is now a fact the Garo Hills is in a state of turmoil and the violence could rise in the days ahead.