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Boost for peace talks in Garo hills

Shillong, March 28: The Centre has approved the “agreed text for settlement”, which was arrived at with the A’chik National Volunteers’ Council (ANVC) in January last year. This paves the way for empowerment of not only the existing Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC), but possibly other similar institutions in the Northeast.

The approval came before the announcement of the Lok Sabha polls, J.P.N. Singh, director (Northeast) in the Union ministry of home affairs, said today.

Singh was here for the Joint Monitoring Group meeting, held earlier in the day, with representatives of the ANVC and the Meghalaya government. At the meeting, it was decided that the suspension of operations with the outfit would be extended by another year until March 31, 2015, he said.

Besides, Singh said the ministry had received the three names that were proposed by the state government for appointment as emissaries in the anticipated peace parleys with the proscribed Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA). A decision on whom to appoint as the emissary or emissaries will be taken by the ministry, Singh said.

“The contours of the final agreement to be signed with the ANVC have been approved. These relate to the political, organisational and development aspects,” the Union home ministry official said.

As far as the political aspect is concerned, he said Parliament needs to amend the Sixth Schedule to accommodate the demands put forth by the ANVC.

The outfit had demanded more powers and seats for the GHADC. It had proposed that the seats should be enhanced from the existing 30 to 40 (35 directly elected members, with five nominated members).

Last month, the state government had refrained from holding elections to the council pending approval of the “agreed text for settlement”. Its tenure was also extended by six months.

The government had also clarified that if the powers and seats of the GHADC were enhanced, the councils in Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills would reap similar benefits.

“The benefits to be accrued from the amendments of the Sixth Schedule would be extended to others (councils) as well, although with subtle variations. For instance, the number of seats will vary as per population, area and other factors,” Singh said.

He said the final settlement would be signed with the ANVC much before the constitutional amendments are brought in. “Once the agreement is signed, periodical reviews will also take place. Many things will start happening, more funds will start flowing to the area, although not overnight,” he said.

After May 16, and as and when a new government takes office in Delhi, the constitutional amendments are expected to be given shape.

The breakaway group of the ANVC, led by Rimpu Marak, had also joined the peace process by being party to the “agreed text for settlement”.

The government had urged other rebel groups operating in Garo hills to join the peace pact. The GNLA, responding to a call by governor Krishan Kant Paul for peace talks, had recommended some names as emissaries.

In turn, the government had sent three names, which it did not disclose, to the ministry for approval.

Welcoming the Centre’s decision, ANVC publicity secretary Arist Sangma said, “According to the Centre’s representative, the matter will be followed up with the new government, and gradually, the settlement will be implemented.”

The ANVC had entered into a tripartite ceasefire agreement with the state and the Centre on July 23, 2004 for a political settlement to bring lasting peace in Garo hills.

The group held peace talks with former Intelligence Bureau chief P.C. Haldar, who was appointed as negotiator for the outfit before signing the “agreed text for settlement” on January 5 last year.