ISSN 2330-717X

India: Unwarranted Violence Spike In Meghalaya


By Fakir Mohan Pradhan

In contrast to the almost continuous diminution in trends in militant violence since 2003, Meghalaya registered a spike in 2010, with 20 fatalities, including three civilians and 17 militants. There were just five fatalities in 2009, including one civilian and four militants. For two consecutive years the state recorded no Security Forces (SFs) casualty.

Militancy related incidents were reported from six of Meghalaya’s seven Districts in 2010. While the East Khasi Hills District was worst affected, with 24 recorded incidents, East Garo Hills reported 23; West Garo Hills, 10; Jaintia Hills, six; West Khasi Hills and South Garo Hills, five incidents each. Ri-Bhoi District did not record any militancy-related incident.

Militancy-related Fatalities in Meghalaya: 2001-10
Source: Data 2001-2007: Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India
Data 2008-2010: South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP)

Militants suffered major loses in the State, though the militancy related incidents increased to 73 in 2010 from 50 in 2009. On December 10, 2010, four militants of the breakaway faction of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), including its leader, Jokin Momin, were killed during an encounter with Police in East Garo Hills District. The breakaway faction was yet to give itself a name. Further, the ‘Chief’ of the Garo hills-based Liberation of Achik Elite Force (LAEF), Nikseng G. Momin, was killed on December 2, 2010, along with another cadre, in an encounter with the Police at Darugre Reserve Forest in the same District. Of the 17 militants killed in the State in 2010, LAEF accounted for six; GNLA, two; the breakaway faction of GNLA, four; the Assam-based United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), three; and the Hynniewtrep Liberation Front (HLF), two.

The SFs also made some key arrests. Shembhalang Dkhar and Roy Kupar Marbaniang, the ‘commander-in-chief’ and ‘chairman’, respectively, of the newly formed HLF, were arrested from their respective residences at Demthring and Madanriting localities in capital Shillong on January 13, 2010. Joplin Pohtam alias Jop, a ‘sergeant major’ of the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) and a key aide to the outfit’s ‘commander-in-chief’ Bobby Marwein, was arrested by the Border Security Force (BSF) near Umngot River in Dawki of East Khasi Hills District on July 18, 2010 GNLA ‘finance secretaries’, Solte Marak and Martin, were arrested by the SFs from Williamnagar, East Garo Hills District, on May 15, 2010. Earlier on the same day, the ‘general secretary’ of the outfit, Novembirth Ch. Marak, was also arrested from New Jalpaiguri railway station in West Bengal. Months later, the alleged “chief recruiting agent” of the GNLA, Dikseng M. Sangma and two of his close aides, Wallen Ch. Marak and Stingson Ch. Marak, were arrested from the East Garo Hills District on October 23, 2010. A total of 71 militants were arrested in the State through 2010, including 18 from HNLC; 12 from GNLA; five from the Assam-based National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB); four from ULFA: four from HLF; three from Hmar People’s Convention – Democracy (HPC-D); three from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA); three from Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP); and one each from the Nagaland-based National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL). The affiliation of 17 arrested militants was unspecified.

The pressure maintained by the SFs also resulted in some surrenders. The LAEF ‘chairman’, Dimrim N. Sangma alias Ramen, surrendered at Williamnagar in the East Garo Hills District along with four cadres, on December 16, 2010. GNLA accounted for five surrenders; LAEF, 4; NDFB, 3; HNLC, 2; ULFA, 2; and HLF, 1.

The HNLC, the principal militant grouping in earlier years, with its strength considerably reduced due to rapid attrition, kept activities at a low level, barring some reports of extortion in the coal belt areas, especially in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Significantly, HNLC ‘area commander’ Alex Hahshah, who has been active in the coal belt for the past five years and was instrumental in recruitment in that area, was arrested along with eight new recruits from a house at Parmowda village in the West Khasi Hills District on January 27, 2010. The group’s capacities have been so reduced that is was said to be borrowing arms from other groups, and returning these after after doing the “job” (extortion) with the “instrument”. This was revealed after the arrest an HNLC cadre, identified as Aibor alias Saddam Hussein, from Pynthorsale village in Jaintia Hills District on August 29, 2010. However, some top HNLC leaders, including “chairman” Cheristerfield Thangkhiew, are still believed to be operating from Bangladesh. The Ministry of Home Affairs, on December 16, 2010, extended its ban on the HNLC.

Another prominent militant group, the ANVC, which claims to represent the Garo tribe, has entered into a process of talks with the Union Government, and the ceasefire between the ANVC and the Union Government was extended without any time frame on September 30, 2010.

The vacuum left by major outfits has, however, been filled by a number of smaller groups. The newly formed Garo faction, GNLA, has been the most active in killing, abduction, extortion, bomb blasts and attacks on SFs. The outfit was floated by a former Deputy Superintendent of Police, Meghalaya, Pakchara R. Sangma alias Champion R. Sangma, after deserting the Police force. Sangma had gone “missing” for several months until it was discovered, in March 2010, that he was leading the GNLA. He issued a press statement ‘confirming’ his position as the “chairman” of the GNLA. Media reports suggest that Sohan D. Shira, former ANVC ‘area Commander’ for the East Garo Hills, was the ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of the GNLA. The cadre base of the outfit is mainly formed by deserters from ANVC, LAEF and NDFB. The outfit is believed to be behind the killing of two non-local coal miners in South Garo Hills on November 17, 2010, and a bomb blast in Tura on October 9, 2010, in which nine persons were injured. GNLA is also engaged in extortion from coal-traders, petrol tank owners and local businessmen. There are several instances persons working under the Union Government’s flagship programme, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), in the East and South Garo Hills Districts, cuting short their work to leave the area due to fear of the GNLA militants.

The Government initially dismissed the GNLA as a “bunch of criminals”, but on December 12, 2010, invited the group for talks to “facilitate their surrender”. Chief Minister Mukul Sangma’s offer, however, did not evoke any response from the outfit.

Another new militant formation, Hynniewtrep Tiger National Front (HTNF), was formed on May 19, 2010. The new group’s ‘chairman’ Nathan Kshiar, in a statement to the Press, claimed that the HTNF’s main objective was to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Khasi and Jaintia people.” However, the SFs quickly arrested key leaders of the outfit from Shillong on May 23, 2010, including the ‘chairman’, Nathan Kshiar, ‘commander-in-chief’ Khraw alias Kitbok Kyndiah, and ‘publicity secretary’ Jonas alias Vincent Kharir.

Meghalaya has also been witnessing the overflow of militancy from neighbouring States. Myanmarese rebels and arms’ dealers have made Shillong their “rendezvous point” for weapons’ transactions with Northeast militants. A central intelligence agency recently alerted the Meghalaya Police regarding a former ‘captain’ of the Myanmar-based Chin National Army (CNA), Tialkulhtang, smuggling in arms and ammunition from Mandalay in Myanmar. BSF Inspector General R.C. Saxena confirmed that some “elements of CNA” were hiding in Shillong.

Assam-based ULFA also has hideouts in the State and, on March 14, 2010, its cadres shot dead a 65-year-old person, Tomen N. Marak, at his residence at Rongrong Apal village under the Resubelpara sub-division in East Garo Hills District. Groups such as ULFA and NDFB in Assam are known to have used the Garo Hills to travel between Assam and their base areas in Bangladesh. There are also credible reports about GNLA links with the Nagaland-based NSCN-IM and ULFA. Former Meghalaya Chief Minister D.D. Lapang, on February 7, 2010, stated that insurgent outfits like ULFA, NSCN-IM, NDFB and United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) were not only supporting groups like LAEF, but also providing them arms, ammunition and training.

Militant groups in the State also fuel conflict among different tribes. The clashes between Rabhas and Garos along the Assam-Meghalaya border, which ensued on New Year’s Day in 2011, left at least 10 persons dead and some 50,000 displaced from the East Garo Hills District of Meghalaya and the Goalpara District of Assam. A visiting officialof the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Shambhu Singh, on January 10, 2011, stated that the clashes appeared “well-planned” and did not rule out the hand of “underground groups.”

Meghalaya has recorded significant gains against militant violence over the past years. However, new groups are constantly being created within the vacuum left behind by older formations, and the environment of political uncertainty – the State has witnessed a leadership change on eight occasions over the past five years – creates wide spaces for continuous militant mobilisation. Much of this is now devoid even of a fig-leaf of ideology, and its principal motivations appears to be extortion. Nevertheless, the harm these groups are doing to Meghalaya and its people will persist, unless a regime of some political stability and administrative efficiency is established across the State.

Fakir Mohan Pradhan
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

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SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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