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Political dialogue gets going with Meghalaya rebels


Shillong: The central government Tuesday set the ball rolling for political negotiations with Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC), a powerful rebel group in Meghalaya, to ensure lasting peace in the Garo Hills.

“Today, we have started a political dialogue with the ANVC and discussions on their demand for creation of an autonomous council will continue,” New Delhi’s pointsman and former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Pradyot Chandra Haldar told journalists here.

ANVC, a tribal Garo rebel group operating in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills region, is fighting for creation of Garoland Territorial Council. It had entered into a tripartite ceasefire with the central and the Meghalaya governments July 23, 2004.

The outfit had threatened to pull out of the agreement and return to armed struggle if the government failed to come forward with an “acceptable solution” to its demands.

“Today, we have aired our political demands before Haldar and we have left it to the government to decide on it,” ANVC spokesman Arist Sangma told IANS.

“We have scaled down our demand from separate statehood to an autonomous council in line of Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam in the larger interests of our people,” he said, expressing hope that the government would concede the group’s demand to ensure lasting peace and development in Garo Hills region.

However, Tuesday’s meeting between Haldar and the ANVC did not touch on extension of the ceasefire, which is due to expire March 31.

“Since we discussed mainly about the political issues of ANVC, the ceasefire extension will be discussed in upcoming joint monitoring group meeting scheduled before March 31,” Haldar said.

Haldar, who arrived in Shillong Monday, also held meetings with Chief Minister D.D. Lapang, Deputy Chief Minister Mukul M.Sangma and other senior government officials.

Meghalaya has asked the central government not to waste time and reach an “acceptable tripartite accord” with the ANVC for lasting peace in the Garo Hills.

Lapang is leaving for New Delhi to meet Home Minister P.Chidambaram to urge upon him the need for extension of the ceasefire with the ANVC.

“The ceasefire with ANVC will cease March 31. We cannot drive them (ANVC) to the wall…they might go to the extreme,” Lapang, who also holds the home portfolio, said.