Meghalaya on alert after Assam killings

"The district administration has sought strict vigilance along the inter-state border with Assam, especially bordering the Garo Hills region, to prevent communal clashes following the Sunday night killings," Meghalaya Principal Secretary in-charge (Home) K.S. Kropha told journalists.

In order to ensure communal harmony, Meghalaya police chief Peter James Pyngrope Hanaman will meet his Assam counterpart Jayanto N. Choudhury Nov 6 at Guwahati to discuss the killings and adopt steps for joint patrolling in those areas. Seven people were killed and nine injured when suspected cadres of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) fired indiscriminately at some people in a village in Assam's Goalpara district.

The incident took place in Gendabari village located on the Assam-Meghalaya border. According to police, all the victims were engaged in gambling on the occasion of Diwali. The Assam government has imposed an indefinite night curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. within a two km radius of the Assam-Meghalaya border in Goalpara district and the army has been pressed in to prevent any untoward incident.

"As of today, the situation on our side (Garo Hills) is peaceful and our state forces have been deployed in those areas to take stock of the situation. If the situation demands, the district administration in those areas (Garo Hills) can also impose curfew to prevent any untoward incident," Kropha said.

Although Assam Police are pointing their fingers at the outlawed Garo National Liberation Army - the Meghalaya-based rebel outfit - for carrying out the Sunday night attack, the Meghalaya Police suspect the United Achik Liberation Army (UALA), another tribal outfit, of the killings. "As per the assessment of Meghalaya Police, the killings were carried out by the UALA militants since more of its cadres are tribal Garos living in Assam's Goalpara district," a home department official said on condition of anonymity.

Admitting significant presence of UALA rebels in Goalpara district, Meghalaya Police chief Hanaman, however, said that the state police cannot pinpoint the involvement of any particular outfit since investigations are being carried out by Assam Police. "We are concerned with the incident since it may have repercussions on our side (Garo Hills) due to the historical background and conflicts between the tribal Garos and Rabhas in the past," Hanaman said.

There has been tension in the area since last month, particularly due to the proposed elections to the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council (RHAC). Other communities living in these areas, including the Garos, have been opposing the polls, asking that the government first exclude non-Rabha dominated villages from the RHAC. The Assam government announced three-phased polls to the RHAC to be held Nov 13, Nov 16 and Nov 25.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has instructed the director general of police to launch a manhunt to nab the militants involved in the violence. The Assam chief minister has also taken up the matter with the Meghalaya government, seeking its assistance in nabbing the GNLA militants and ensuring that the group does not create more trouble during elections to the RHAC.  

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