Meghalaya government not to declare Garo Hills disturbed area

    By IANS,

    Shillong : Stating that there is no intention to declare the insurgency-hit Garo Hills region a “disturbed area”, the Meghalaya government Wednesday vowed to continue fighting militancy in the state.

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

    An area declared 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. The customs and traditions are different in these areas and people from outside do take time to understand these issues, so we are not declaring Garo Hills a disturbed area, nor are we in favour of roping in the army at this juncture,” Pariat told journalists.

    He, however, vowed that counter-insurgency operations will continue in a “strong manner” and in a “strategised way” to neutralise the militant activities in the Garo Hills. “We have to relook into the areas where we have problems and then come up with appropriate strategies,” he said.

    Five Meghalaya policemen were killed in South Garo Hills, bordering Bangladesh, on Tuesday when a group of 30 Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) militants ambushed them when they were on their way to a jail to take charge of a prisoner.

    The home ministry has expressed concern over the situation in the five districts of Garo Hills, especially with the rise of the outlawed GNLA, a tribal Garo outfit which forged an operational alliance with the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, giving it access to arms and ammunition.

    “We are concerned with the rise of GNLA. But we don’t know the reason why they have not been able to neutralise GNLA or nab Sohan D. Shira (military wing chief of the GNLA) despite our sanctioning central paramilitary forces to carry out operation against GNLA,” a senior home ministry official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

    Shira had vowed to carry out retaliatory attacks against the security forces.

    “Tuesday’s incident is an occasion for the police to retrospect and redraw their strategies in their fight against militants and other anti-social elements,” S.K. Jain, the intelligence chief of Meghalaya Police, said at a meeting to pay homage to the slain policemen.

    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, have unleashed terror in three impoverished districts of Garo Hills in the last one year and killed over 35 people, including security personnel.