No intention to declare Garo Hills as ‘disturbed area’

Stating that there was no intention to declare the insurgency-ravaged Garo Hills regions as a “disturbed area”, the Meghalaya government Wednesday vowed to challenge the rise of militancy activities in the western part of the state.

“At this moment, there is no proposal from the state government to the Centre to declare the Garo Hills as a “disturbed area” as the situation in that region is not bad comparing with other disturbed areas of the country,” Chief Secretary W.M.S.Pariat said.

An area declared as a disturbed area immediately comes under the controversial Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act, which provides security forces with sweeping powers.

“We do not want to rope in the Army in the area as there are several issues to be considered before coming to such a decision.

The local customs and traditions are different in these areas and people from outside do take time to understand these issues, so no we are not declaring Garo Hills as a disturbed area, nor are we in favour of roping in the Army at this juncture,” Pariat told a group of journalists.

He, however, vowed that counter insurgency operations will continue in a “strong manner” and in a “strategised way” to neutralise the militancy activities in the Garo Hills. 

“We have to relook into the areas where we have problems and then come up with appropriate strategies,” the Chief Secretary stated.

On Tuesday, five Meghalaya policemen were killed in South Garo Hills, bordering Bangladesh when a group of 30 GNLA militants ambushed them on their way to a jail to take charge of a prisoner.

However, the Union Home Ministry has expressed concern over the situation in the five districts of Garo Hills, especially with the rise of the outlawed Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), a tribal Garo outfit which forged an operational alliance with the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, providing it access to arms and ammunition.

“We are concern with the rise of the GNLA, but we don’t know what is the reason they have not been able to neutralize GNLA or nab Sohan D Shira (military wing chief of the GNLA) despite we have sanctioned central paramilitary forces to carry out operation against the GNLA,” a senior Union Home Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

Sohan D Shira, the most wanted criminal by Meghalaya police, had vowed to carry out retaliatory attacks against the security forces.

“We have then asked the earlier the state government to act against them (GNLA) when we got feedbacks those days when they were not operational and remained static. But now I believed that the action has increased against them,” the MHA official said.

Meanwhile, the Meghalaya police have stressed on the need to redraw their strategies in their fight against the outlawed GNLA following Tuesday’s deadly attack on the five policemen.

“Tuesday’s incident was an occasion for the police to retrospect and redraw their strategies in their fight against militants and other anti-social elements who do not have a respect for the law,” S.K.Jain, the intelligence chief of Meghalaya police said at a meeting to condole and pay homage to the five slain policemen killed by the GNLA.

“In the days to come, we will take appropriate lessons from this episode and rededicate ourselves to maintaining peace and order in the state,” he added.

The GNLA, fighting for a separate Garoland, is headed by Champion R. Sangma, a former deputy superintendent who deserted Meghalaya Police owing to alleged harassment by his superiors. He floated the GNLA in 2009.

Sangma was arrested July 30 near the India-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya. The state government terminated his services in July 2010.

GNLA rebels, who number around 100, unleashed terror in three impoverished districts of Garo Hills in the last one year and killed over 35 people, including security personnel.