While the Centre has hit out against the Mukul Sangma-led government in Meghalaya for “underestimating” the proliferation of insurgent groups in the state, one of the rebel outfits — the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), which is demanding a separate state for the Garo tribe — has expressed its willingness to come forward for peace talks. GNLA’s latest move comes in the wake of a rift within the outfit, with one of the top leaders, Reding T Sangma, floating a breakaway group — the A’chik Songna An’pachakgipa Kotok (ASAK), roughly translated as “vanguards of Garoland”.
However, GNLA has made it clear that the talks would be contingent upon the release of its arrested chairman, Champion Sangma, who is currently lodged in a jail in state capital Shillong. He was picked up from the East Khasi Hills along the Indo-Bangladesh border in July 2012. Chief Minister Mukul Sangma had termed his arrest the result of sustained efforts by India and Bangladesh to eradicate terrorism.
Suspected to be the mastermind of several crimes, including murder and extortion, the GNLA chairman was booked under numerous sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and accused of waging war against the State.
On 12 January, however, Champion Sangma was granted bail in two cases as the prosecution had failed to file a chargesheet within the stipulated 90 days. As per the UAPA, the said period can be extended to 180 days if the prosecution asks for it. However, the prosecution did not do this in the GNLA chairman’s case.
Champion Sangma, a former police official, had formed the GNLA in November 2009 along with Sohan D Shira, who was earlier with another insurgent group, the A’chik National Volunteers Council (ANVC). Shira is currently the commander-in-chief of the outfit, which had started its operations with 78 cadres, most of them formerly with the ANVC. Today, the GNLA is said to have 198 cadres and works in close coordination with the Paresh Baruah-led anti-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
Over the past five years, the GNLA has emerged as the biggest challenge for the security forces in the Garo Hills. Its cadres have killed more than 100 people, including security personnel. However, the intensification of operations against the outfit seems to have pushed it into a corner and that is perhaps the reason behind its offer of talks.
Last January, the ANVC signed an “agreed text for settlement” with the Meghalaya government, leading to peace parleys that also include a breakaway group, the ANVC (B). Early this year, the Meghalaya cm asked all Garo Hills-based outfits to join the ongoing peace talks with the ANVC.
However, local civil society groups such as the A’chik Peace Volunteers Council (APVC) are opposed to the idea of peace talks with the insurgents. In a letter to the Union home ministry, the APVC has called the talks “unconstitutional” as the insurgents “are criminals and should be punished according to the law of the land”.