ISSN 2330-717X

India: Festering Wounds In Meghalaya – Analysis

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By Veronica Khangchian

On January 19, 2012, a group of seven Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) cadres armed with AK-47 rifles and SLR rifles shot dead two civilians at Songsak village in West Khasi Hills District. Earlier, on January 16, 2012, two Garo youth, identified as Pak Momin and Engti Marak, were shot dead by GNLA militants, who suspected them to be Police informers.

According to the Police, the two youth hailed from Konchikol village, and were killed near their homes under Resubelpara Sub-Division in East Garo Hills District.

Location of Meghalaya in India
Location of Meghalaya in India

Despite a measure of stabilization, violence continues to haunt the State. Meghalaya was fast returning to peace, before the emergence of GNLA in 2009.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (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).

More worryingly, civilian fatalities nearly quadrupled, from three in 2010 to 11 in 2011. This is the first time since 2003 that fatalities among the civilians have reached double digits. Similarly, the State recorded double digit fatalities among the Security Forces (SFs) for the first time since 2002, with 10 fatalities among SFs personnel in 2011, as against none in 2010. In fact, it was on December 7, 2008, that a trooper had last been killed in the State. On the contrary, militant fatalities declined, with eight killed in 2011, as compared to 17 in 2010. 2009 had recorded four insurgent fatalities.

Annual Fatalities in Terrorist Violence in Meghalaya, 2001-2012

Years
Civilians
Security Force Personnel
Terrorists
Total
2001
24
8
8
40
2002
29
18
17
64
2003
26
5
27
58
2004
7
5
23
35
2005
2
1
26
29
2006
7
0
17
24
2007
4
1
13
18
2008
0
1
12
13
2009
1
0
4
5
2010
3
0
17
20
2011
11
10
8
29
2012*
4
0
0
4
Total
118
49
172
339
Source: SATP, *Data till January 22, 2012

The State recorded five major incidents (each involving three or more killings) in 2011, as compared to just one in 2010. Prominent among the major incidents were:

October 31, 2011: About 12 to 15 heavily armed GNLA militants ambushed a Police patrol at Nengpatchi village in East Garo Hills District, killing four Policemen and a civilian driver before decamping with five automatic rifles.

June 4, 2011: Three Policemen were killed and two others injured in an ambush by suspected GNLA militants at Thapadarenchi village in East Garo Hills District.

Apart from the killings, the State recorded 46 incidents of violence in 2011, including explosions, firing, encounters, abductions, and reported cases of extortion, as compared to 32 incidents registered in 2010.

Recorded incidents of extortion and abduction, which has been rampant in the entire Northeastern region, escalated significantly in 2011 [data relating to these give evident underestimates, as an overwhelming proportion of incidents, particularly in the more remote areas of the State, go unreported]. The year witnessed 10 abductions in seven reported incidents, as compared to five in as many incidents in 2010. The most prominent among these was the abduction by GNLA militants, of the Block Development Officer (BDO) of Dadenggre Civil Subdivision, Prafulla Kumar Boro, in West Garo Hills District on November 21, 2011. Later, releasing Boro on December 21, 2011, GNLA ‘commander’ Jack Marak declared that, though the Government had failed to fulfill the outfit’s demand to withdraw SFs from the Garo Hills, they had released Boro, as he was an honest official.

In an incident related to extortion, the GNLA abducted two Assam-based traders from Kalchengpara village near Selsella in West Garo Hills District on November 21, 2011. The traders were released on November 30, 2011. Though they denied paying a ransom to the outfit, Police sources indicate that money to the tune of INR 300,000 may have been paid by their families for their safe release. Similarly, on October 17, 2011, GNLA militants abducted a Hindi school teacher from the border belt in South Garo Hills. The teacher was freed on October 26, 2011, after an amount of INR 200,000 was paid to the GNLA.

SATP recorded nine incidents of extortion in 2011, as against three in 2010. On December 23, 2011, SFs arrested three GNLA militants, identified as Rakim G. Momon alias Bong, Sengrang G. Momin and Namseng B. Marak, while they were extorting money from the Jangjal Market in West Garo Hills District. In a daring incident, on April 18, 2011, GNLA militants shot at several trucks and placed a demand of INR 20,000 from every trucker plying through Wahthre village, around eight kilometers from Shahlang in the East Khasi Hills District.

Formed in 2009 and led by its ‘chairman’, a former Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Pakchara R. Sangma alias Champion R. Sangma, the GNLA rose to prominence in 2010 and further strengthened its position in 2011. GNLA was involved in all the civilian and SF killings in 2011, and also accounted for all the militant fatalities in the year. The GNLA was also involved in 33 of the total of 46 reported incidents of violence in 2011.

The Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), another prominent group in the State, was involved in five reported incidents through 2011. On August 11, 2011, heavy exchange of fire between the Jaintia Hills Police and suspected HNLC militants was reported in a jungle near Iongnoh and Chyrmang villages, a few kilometers from Jowai town in the Jaintia Hills District. Jaintia Hills Additional Superintendent of Police noted, “They (HNLC cadres) might have come from Bangladesh through the Umkiang border and were headed for Jowai to create trouble.” The outfit later enforced a shutdown on Independence Day, August 15, 2011. Meanwhile, on September 15, 2011, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma admitted that an email had been received by the media from the HNLC, expressing the desire to hold talks. However, on September 20, 2011, the HNLC alleged that the Meghalaya Government was not sincere about talks and warned that it would continue its armed struggle.

On the other hand, groups like the Liberation A’chik Elite Force (LAEF) and Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) remained dormant. LAEF ‘chief’ Nikseng G. Momin had been killed on December 2, 2010, while the ANVC had entered into a cease-fire with the Government on July 23, 2004. Indeed, on October 11, 2011, the tripartite cease-fire agreement between the Centre, State Government and the ANVC was extended by another year, effective from October 1, 2011. The ceasefire was earlier extended for nine months, from January 1, 2011, till September 30, 2011. However, the GNLA on September 1, 2011, accused ANVC of ‘secret killings’ of several Garo youth. Significantly, on December 4, 2011, the ANVC issued a statement declaring, “If needed, ANVC will work with the Government to wipe out GNLA.” Former ANVC leader, Sohan D. Shira, is the ‘commander-in chief’ of GNLA, and there is a bitter rivalry between the groups.

With violence rising, the SFs recorded some successes. On August 9, 2011, four GNLA militants, including the ‘deputy commander-in-chief’ of the outfit, Roster Marak, a Police deserter, were killed in an encounter with the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team of the State Police at Bolkengre, a village located just four kilometers from Williamnagar town of East Khasi Hills District. Also, on October 18, 2011, Police killed a senior GNLA ‘deputy area commander’, Dilseng alias Bashish, on the outskirts of Nengmaldalgre village in East Garo Hills District.

The SFs also arrested 61 militants in 30 incidents in 2011, as compared to 71 militants arrested in the State through 2010. These included 33 GNLA cadre, 10 United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) cadre, six National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) cadre, four each of the Rabha Security Force and HNLC, as well as four ‘unspecified’ militants. Significantly, on November 23, 2011, the State Police arrested a top GNLA militant, Jackiush A. Sangma, and five others, including three arms dealers, from different parts of the State capital, Shillong.

Feeling the heat, 34 militants surrendered in 2011, as against 17 in 2010. 27 of those who surrendered in 2011, belonged to GNLA, five to LAEF, and once each to HNLC and Anti-Talks Faction of NDFB (NDFB-ATF). In most recent surrenders, four senior cadres of the GNLA laid down arms in East Garo Hills District on September 5, 2011. Among them was Salvision R. Sangma alias Kodalok, a cousin of Champion R. Sangma, ‘chairman’ of the outfit. The most significant surrender, however, occurred when 20 GNLA militants, led by the ‘chief training instructor’ of the outfit, Mingran T. Sangma alias Lodrin T. Sangma, surrendered on April 27, 2011.

Meanwhile, two Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) units of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and five companies of the Border Security Force (BSF) were deployed in the State on July 12, 2011, to tackle the GNLA in response to their increasing activities. This Force has been trifurcated, and a group each is based in the three District Headquarters in the Garo Hills – Tura, Williamnagar and Baghmara, with their areas of operation extending up to the West Khasi Hills District. Earlier, 500 CRPF troopers were assisting the Meghalaya Police and its SWAT commandos, to tackle the GNLA. The Meghalaya Police has a total strength of 10,064 personnel, yielding a strong Police-population ratio of 391 per 100,000.

Despite dramatic counter-insurgency gains over the years in Meghalaya, new entrants like the GNLA have been able to strengthen their position over the past two years. Wide spaces left behind by older groups, which have been neutralized by sustained SF action, are being occupied by new entrants, and continue to provide significant opportunities for militant mobilisation. While the overall environment for militancy across the Northeast has certainly weakened over the last decade, insurgent groups do retain capacities to regroup and cause significant disruption and damage to the State.

Veronica Khangchian
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

SATP

SATP

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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