UALA signs peace pact

State Govt offers rebel groups 6-month window for talks

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, Home Minister Roshan Warjri, two UALA leaders and the government officials during the signing of the peace agreement at Tura on Friday. (MIPR)

TURA: Meghalaya government has appealed to militant outfits in the state to heed the people’s call for peace and come for talks stating that it is prepared to welcome anyone who wishes to shun the path of violence provided they do so within these six months.
The six-month window of opportunity announcement for militants to return to the mainstream was made by Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma during the signing of the ‘Text of Agreement’ between the state government and the Garo rebel outfit United A’chik Liberation Army (UALA) at Tura circuit house on Friday afternoon.
The State government announcement comes less than two weeks after a top minister from the Central government gave a similar offer for talks with all militant outfits including the HNLC and the GNLA provided they eschew the path of violence.
“Our mind is open but they (militant groups) have to shun the path violence and come to the mainstream,” Union Minister of state for Home Affairs Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary had told media persons on December 5 on the sidelines of the passing out parade of 230 new recruits at the North Eastern Police Academy (NEPA) in Umiam, Shillong.
On Friday, the UALA outfit’s senior leaders led by its chairman Novembirth Ch Marak alias Chiindik signed the ‘text agreement’ to end their armed struggle in the presence of chief minister Mukul Sangma and top state government officials.
Church leaders who had played a vital role as peace interlocutors to bring the UALA over ground were witness to the signing of the agreement.
The lone Militant leader of UALA, commander-in-chief Singbirth Marak alias Norrok X Momin, was conspicuous by his absence which was attributed to his ill health.
“Our C-n-C wanted to attend the signing ceremony but due to his ill health could not make it,” informed UALA chairman Chiindik Marak.
Appreciating the decision of the UALA outfit to end their armed struggle, the chief minister appealed to other militant organizations to follow in their footsteps to bring lasting peace to Garo Hills.
“This offer to all militant groups to come forward for talks was not made by the chief minister or the government but by the people of Garo Hills who have all along been yearning for peace. Everyone should heed  the peoples’ call,” the Chief Minister said adding “this message is mainly for the GNLA and HNLC”.
He also urged the government officials to do their utmost as far as the peace talks are concerned so as to set an example for other militants to come forward.
“Other militants will be keenly watching the outcome of the peace process so everything must be done to ensure there is no room for doubt,” the Chief Minister cautioned.
He also said that prayers for the return of peace are being offered by people in the Garo Hills as well as in other parts of the world.
It was also announced at the signing ceremony event that the rehabilitation package has been raised from Rs. 1.5 Lakh to Rs. 2.5 lakh for those who give up the armed rebellion.
UALA Chairman Novembirth Marak alias Chiindik also spoke during the text agreement signing ceremony.
He said that military chief Norrok X Momin, general secretary Nagra D Shira and himself had a secret meeting among themselves to discuss the offer of peace talks announcement by the Meghalaya Government sometime in the month of February-March, last year.
“After taking a decision we brought it to the knowledge of our cadres who all agreed for the talks. It was only then that we approached church leader Rev. Janang R Sangma and other church leaders expressing our willingness to return to the mainstream,” recalled Chiindik Marak.
He also said that the reason behind the creation of UALA was to demand for a separate Garo state but the organization later realized that an armed struggle was a futile exercise and decided to end their violent struggle.
While appreciating the decision of the government to welcome them for the peace talks, a special gratitude was given to the church leaders who made it possible for them to come over ground and begin peace talks.
Meghalaya home minister Roshan Warjri along with sports minister Zenith M Sangma, GHADC CEM Denang T Sangma and Chairman Boston Marak, parliamentary secretaries (MLAs), senior state government officials including top police officials, Council of Nokmas President S G Momin,  ABDK general secretary Reverend Janang R Sangma and Pastor of Hawakhana Baptist Church Rev. Frithing D Sangma were witness to the signing of the Text Agreement between the government and the UALA.
The next step for the UALA will be to hand over to the government their list of cadres and number of weapons in their possession. The Tura Youth Hostel, which had previously housed the ANVC for many years until their disbanding in December, last year, will soon be housing the UALA cadres.