Tura, June 5: Twenty kilometers off Paikan, the tri-junction where the road forks off to Tura, the army camp on National Highway 51 has an improvised operations room — a sort of a summer house within the compound of Kukurkata police station.
The small board on the wall next to a large operations map provides figures of the Dogra regiment unit stationed there: kills two; one of Ulfa and one of GNLA. Apprehends three of Rabha Viper Army, three of Rabha National Liberation Front, two of United Achik Liberation Army and three Ulfa.
Ask the personnel there what UALA is and pat comes the reply: they are a breakaway faction of the ANVC and are now a combination of Garo and Ulfa militants. These permutation and combinations of militant outfits are what the security forces are up against.
Two kilometres away is Berubari, the Assam-Meghalaya border, Paikan being 140km from Guwahati. Beyond Berubari, the state police, CRPF and BSF patrol Meghalaya, the state’s chief minister Mukul Sangma still quite certain that the army —and by the default the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act — isn’t still required to contain the insurgency that has come to plague his state.
Eighty kilometres uphill, at Tura, members of the Mothers’ Union have gathered at the deputy commissioner’s office to discuss a protest against the Chokpot incident. They are in agreement with Sangma but reject outright any suggestion that the ‘movement’ led by the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) may have any patriotic motives whatsoever. “It is all about money. This is trouble that has been borrowed from militants in neighbouring states. Militants of Ulfa and NSCM (I-M) who for decades used the Garo hills as a corridor have now got Garo boys into this,” says a senior member of the union.
“Many people have received demand notes. The harassment is endless,” she says.
If the Ulfa targeted Assam’s tea industry as its main source of income during its heydays in the 1990s, militants of Meghalaya have had their coal mines to extort.
The targeting of common people also has to do with the green tribunal banning rat-hole mining in the Meghalaya — the main form of excavation in these parts where mines are privately owned — on April 17 this year. The industry, given the private ownership, runs reckless and offers only fudgy figures: Nangalbibra and Chokpot areas alone in South Garo Hills could have around 200 mines.
The only concrete figure, that for the financial year 2013-14 up to December last year: 37.61 lakh metric tonnes of coal was produced in Meghalaya. The total revenue collected on “major minerals” up to December last year was Rs 289.14 crore, according to government data.
The wealth the region offers has spawned a string of militant outfits, each a breakaway faction of the one before it, the extortion problem refusing to go away given the source of easy money.
The GNLA, for example, is a breakaway faction of the militant Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) that signed a peace accord with the government in July 2004. A second faction of the ANVC, headed by Rimpu Marak, saw its own breakaway, christened Asak, that is still active in the state’s coal areas with some 70 to 80 members it took away during the split.
Rimpu and his men, too, are active in the region. Norok Momin, a former member of the ANVC, then launched the United Achik Liberation Army (UALA).
The source of arms continues to be the same: from breakaway factions of militant groups in the neighbouring states of Assam and Nagaland where group after group has appeared only to see splits and splinter groups. Of those who have surrendered only some have deposited their arms with the government, while others have held onto them in designated camps or sold them to groups such as the GNLA.
At its wit’s end, the political leadership in Meghalaya is now banking on the church leadership to bring the militants to the negotiating table —under the umbrella of the ANVC, the mother organisation. “Talks will have to be held no matter what,” says a senior government official. That perhaps is the only way out of the morass that Meghalaya now finds itself in.