Coal sector filling Garo militant group coffers

Flush with extorted funds from coal miners and transporters and equipped with sophisticated weaponry, Garo insurgents are on a virtual rampage.

On Friday, two BSF jawans were gunned down by suspected Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) near an India-Bangladesh border outpost. This came after five policemen were gunned down in a GNLA ambush on Tuesday. On Saturday, seven Rabha tribals were shot dead in another attack in Assam’s Goalpara district — neighbouring Meghalaya.

“Mainly being fed by extorted money from coal mines and coal transporters in the area, cash is no problem for the Garo insurgent outfits.

“The GNLA in particular has very sophisticated weapons that are unmatched by many of the bigger groups,” said a senior intelligence officer familiar with the outfit’s activities.

“The group at present is led by the tech-savvy and gadget-loving Sohan D Shira, whose name is starting to spell dread in these parts,” the official said adding that the area along the west Assam-Meghalaya border is fast turning out to be a hotbed of insurgent activity.

Started by a renegade police officer, GNLA was formed in 2009 by Champion Sangma, a former Meghalaya Police officer who is now behind bars.

Once helped immensely in weapons training and logistics by the ULFA, it is now the GNLA that the Paresh Barua-headed ULFA (Independent) is turning out to for aid and shelter in the Garo hills. The GNLA-dominated area in west Meghalaya also offers a safe refuge and passage for movement of ULFA men and material from Bangladesh.

Shira is also known to be aiding and sheltering ULFA leader Dristi Rajkhowa somewhere in and around the Doorana hills area.

Sources told HT that the two groups also share hideouts in Bangladesh’s Sherpur area.

While security forces say GNLA comprises about 200 well-armed guerrilla fighters, local sources put the number of GNLA cadres a much higher number.