By Veronica Khangchian
The inherent flaws of the tripartite Cease-fire Agreement (CFA) signed between the Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC), the State Government and the Government of India (GoI), on July 23, 2004, have now been exposed, with the discovery of a split in the outfit and the surfacing of a Breakaway faction of the ANVC (ANVC-B). This exposure also raises troubling questions regarding CFAs signed with 18 other groups in the northeast as well.
An unnamed ANVC-B leader issued a statement, on March 30, 2012, declaring that some 300 cadres, including ‘officers’, had joined the ANVC-B, and that the “designated ANVC camps are isolated and many cadres have returned to the jungles.”
Subsequently, on April 6, 2012, Nado R. Marak, ‘personal secretary’ to ANVC-B ‘commander-in-chief’ Mukost Marak, claimed that the split in the ANVC had taken place as far back as in July 2004, when a section of ANVC leaders, including Sohan D. Shira, the current ‘commander-in-chief’ of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), signed a CFA and came over ground. [Shira deserted an ANVC designated camp on July 24, 2007 and surrendered before the then Chief Minister D.D. Lapang, on August 25, 2007. However, he quickly returned underground, teaming up with ‘chairman’ Champion R. Sangma, to form the GNLA towards the end of 2009.] Nado Marak claimed that, “After disowning the breakaway group, the leaders of the ANVC went on denying the presence of ANVC (Breakaway)… Our group was deliberately left out and not brought under the cease-fire. We continued to stay in the jungle under the command of Mukost Marak, who headed the ‘army wing’. We were waiting for someone to take the initiative and lead us, as we, too, wanted to be a part of the talks.” Meanwhile, it is understood that ANVC-B ‘chairman’ Rimpu Barnard N. Marak had made an effort to include cadres who were left out of the CFA. Referring to Rimpu Marak, Nado noted, “Sir Rimpu (sic) stood for us ever since he visited our camps and took all responsibility to include us in the talks. However, his efforts were halted all the time for reasons best known to the ANVC leaders.”
On April 2, 2012, Nado Marak had stated that the ANVC-B had maintained order and discipline in the hope that the Garos would lead better lives. “However, to our despair, we found out that all our areas of operation were not even included in the territory of the proposed Garoland Autonomous Council (GAC),” he argued, “Also the silence of ANVC leaders against GNLA is another reason, which prompted us to speak out. The leadership should not have isolated the ANVC men who were targeted by the GNLA.”
GNLA, which was declared a terrorist group by the Centre on January 31, 2012, has escalated violence targeting the rank and file of the ANVC, provoking threats that the ANVC would be forced to break the CFA and take up arms to protect itself. Nevertheless, the ANVC-B has blamed the mother organization for being indifferent to GNLA attacks on its cadres, and has attracted a number of ANVC fighters to its fold.
On April 2, 2012, the ANVC-B declared Mukost Marak its ‘Commander-in-Chief’; Rimpu Barnard N. Marak (earlier known as Torik Jangning Marak), the former ‘spokesperson’ of ANVC, its ‘chairman’; and Dilseng its ‘general secretary’. Sources disclosed that Mukost and his cadres were now based in the West Khasi Hills District. The mother organization (ANVC), currently in cease-fire has Dilash R. Marak as the ‘Chairman’ and Jerome Momin as ‘Commander-in-Chief’, and is principally located across the Garo Hills Districts.
The ANVC was involved in significant violence till mid-2004, with its activities peaking in 2002 and 2003. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) data, the ANVC was involved in 14 incidents (abduction, encounters and ambush) in 2002, 15 incidents in 2003 and seven incidents till mid-2004. While there were no remarkable incidents after the CFA, the ANVC continued to routinely engage in extortion in the West Khasi Hills, East Garo Hills and South Garo Hills Districts. It suffered another split in November 2005, when some of its cadres fled the ‘designated camps’ and formed a new outfit, Achik National Liberation Front (ANLF). The ANLF now appears to be dormant.
Meanwhile, referring to disclosures regarding the ANVC-B, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, on April 3, 2012, admitted: “There were deficiencies and the ceasefire process was not done properly. It came to the notice of the Government last year (2011) that there is still an armed group which did not come overground.” He further explained that several ANVC cadres had skipped the attention of the then Government when the CFA was signed, and the ANVC-B remained at large and was never a part of the talks.
The flawed CFA has been periodically extended, with the latest one-year extension given on October 11, 2011.
The ANVC was formed in 1995, with an original demand for the creation of a ‘Greater Garoland’ [including all the three Districts of the Garo Hills – East Garo Hills, West Garo Hills and South Garo Hills – and Garo-dominated areas of West Khasi Hills, in Meghalaya, as well as Goalpara and Kamrup Districts in Assam]. While signing the CFA in 2004, these demands were scaled down to a demand for the formation of a Garo Autonomous Council (GAC) on the lines of the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) of Assam, with a massive socio-economic package and autonomy to fulfill the aspirations of the Garo tribals. In its memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on September 28, 2009, the ANVC, however, made it clear that the demand, if fulfilled, would be different from the existing Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC), as there would be direct funding from the Centre, and not through the State Government, for the administration of the new autonomous body. Another proposal by the ANVC is that senior government officials would be appointed under the GAC to supervise the administration, and to maintain transparency and accountability. According to the memorandum, the territory of the GAC would comprise the three Districts in the Garo Hills.
Meanwhile, the Government is reportedly taking time to finalise the decision, as the GHADC has been in existence since 1952, under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India. Similarly, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), formed on June 27, 1952, and the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC), formed in 1954, to protect the interests of the indigenous people of these areas, have an overlapping jurisdictions with the areas that are being demanded under the GAC. These District Councils have been vested with legislative, executive and judicial functions, as well as financial powers, in the areas under their jurisdiction.
The Meghalaya Government has noted that the creation of the BTC in Assam did not pose any problem, since Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in Assam existed in just a few Districts. In Meghalaya, State Chief Secretary W.M.S. Pariat notes, “the present District Councils in the state, including the GHADC, cover the whole of Meghalaya, and the State Government is finding it tough to create another similar body, as demanded by the ANVC.” Chief Minister Sangma on April 2, 2012, justifying delays in the creation of the GAC, argued, “There is overlapping of powers and functions in the proposed council by the ANVC, GHADC and the State Government. We have to go through all these aspects before finalising a mechanism, which can be acceptable to ANVC.”
Continuing delays on the formation of the GAC have also resulted in the exodus of cadres from the ANVC to the ANVC-B.
Adding to the ANVC’s woes, a December 21, 2011, news report suggested that at least 180 ANVC militants had not been receiving their allowance of INR 3,000 each per month for the preceding six months, even though the Centre had released the amount to the State Government.
With the rising exodus of cadres to the ANVC-B, the breakaway faction is emerging as a potential threat to peace. An ANVC-B leader recently declared, “Mukost and his group has not fired a single bullet to the security personnel or to anyone since the truce was signed (sic). Our separate peace overtures with the Government should not be looked as a sign of weakness by others.” Reports indicate that ANVC-B ‘chairman’ Rimpu Bernard N. Marak has been acquiring new weapons. On January 24, 2012, one Biloo Marak, reportedly sent by Rimpu Bernard Marak, was arrested, along with two AK-47s, at Dudhnoi in Goalpara District (Assam). Significantly, the present ‘commander-in-chief’ of ANVC-B had allegedly killed four coal mine workers in Nangalbibra (South Garo Hills) on November 17, 2010.
Nado R. Marak, on April 6, 2012, further asserted, “The group will still aspire for a greater Garoland and we would like to come to a separate truce with the Government.” These postures will certainly undermine the utility of the CFA with the ANVC.
The security scenario in Meghalaya had improved considerably, with fatalities recording steep declines prior to the formation of the GNLA in 2009. Since this event, however, the situation has begun to deteriorate. According to the SATP database, insurgency-related fatalities increased to 29 in 2011 (in 13 incidents of killing) as compared to 20 in 2010 (in 11 incidents of killing), and just five in 2009. The State has already recorded 18 fatalities in the current year – including 11 civilians and seven militants – in 14 incidents, all but one relating to GNLA (till May 6, 2012).
The State Government, on April 9, 2012, announced that it was ready to hold talks with the ANVC-B and to explore whether the group should be brought under the ambit of the previous tripartite peace agreement, or a separate pact. With both the factions sticking to a divergent agenda, and the GNLA on a rampage, the peace process, based on a flawed CFA, is certainly in jeopardy.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management