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Peace initiative in Garo hills

Tura, Jan. 25: To ensure normalcy in Meghalaya’s Garo hills, civil society groups converged here today to pledge peace. They appealed to outfits to shun violence.

The Peace Summit, initiated by A’chik Mothers’ Association, discussed the utter lawlessness in Garo hills and the causes of growing insurgency.

The meeting constituted an interim body, Unified Peace Movement for Garo Hills, to urge the outfits to shun violence. It will come up with a final resolution, in consultation with the people, to make an earnest appeal for peace, harmony and solidarity.

The interim body is headed by former health minister M.D. Shira and former government official H.R. Marak.

The initiative demonstrated that the youths, women and senior citizens of Garo hills want peace and harmony. Most of the participants suggested co-operation between the people and the government to restore normalcy.

The association’s president, Jova C. Marak, appealed to the outfits to shun violence.

Youth leader Roger A. Sangma said, “As Garos, we have to spread the message of love and appeal for peace. Without peace, no development can come in.”

Apprehending a “disturbed area” tag for the Garo hills, youth activist Pritam Marak said, “It is high time to appeal to root out insurgency”. He also suggested proper rehabilitation for militants once they join the mainstream.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and its implications were also discussed at length at the meeting, which observed that if the prevailing situation was not contained, the army act would be imposed in Garo hills.

Bappun Marak, an activist from Phulbari, said, “It is a draconian act. Its imposition will mean that even innocent people can be killed on mere suspicion. So, the right intervention will be to make an effort to urge the outfits to shun violence so that the situation does not worsen”.

Discussing the causes of insurgency, the participants opined that youths were misguided and lured to join insurgency for easy money.

H.R. Marak, a senior citizen, said, “It is everybody’s duty to ensure that the youths are not misguided. As a mother, we expect good from our children. Hence it is our responsibility to guide them. Our youths should be guided to lead for a good cause.”

Former health minister M.D. Shira sought public cooperation in putting an end to the gun culture. “The public should collaborate with the government and their representatives to ensure that such outfits are not allowed to flourish”. She appealed to all the outfits to enter peace parleys together.

Mushrooming of outfits like the Garo National Liberation Army, the United A’chik Liberation Army and the A’chik Tiger Force has sparked fear of constant disturbances in Garo hills despite outfits like the A’chik National Volunteers Council (ANVC) and its breakaway faction negotiating peace settlement together. The public fears that until all outfits come together, there will be no lasting peace in Garo hills.

The ANVC had signed the tripartite ceasefire with Delhi and Meghalaya in July 2004. The outfit and its breakaway faction signed the settlement agreement on January 5, 2013.

As another breakaway faction, ANVC (B), continued to unleash terror, it seemed that the peace process would be derailed. However, the government managed to bring it on board to discuss the text of settlement on January 23.