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Monday, September 27, 2021

Meghalaya Home Minister quits amid unrest over ex-militant’s death

According to police, Thangkhiew was allegedly involved in an IED blast that injured two in Shillong last week, and was killed in “retaliatory firing” in the early hours of August 13 in an operation at his home in Shillong’s Mawlai.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: August 16, 2021 6:08:14 am
Meanwhile, pictures of damaged vehicles, including a black SUV set ablaze by unknown miscreants, as well as videos of stone-pelting by masked men dressed in black, have been circulating on social media. (File)

PUTTING THE Meghalaya government in a spot, the state’s Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui Sunday submitted his resignation and called for a judicial probe “to bring out the truth” behind the killing of a surrendered militant of the outlawed Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), Cherishterfield Thangkhiew, in a police operation two days ago.

Rymbui’s resignation came hours after the state government banned mobile and data internet services for 48 hours in four districts, and imposed a curfew in the capital Shillong, due to a “serious breakdown of law and order” following the death of Thangkhiew.

According to police, Thangkhiew was allegedly involved in an IED blast that injured two in Shillong last week, and was killed in “retaliatory firing” in the early hours of August 13 in an operation at his home in Shillong’s Mawlai.

Following the incident, tensions have been brewing in the state, with Thangkhiew’s family describing the killing as “cold-blooded murder” and local residents accusing the police of conducting a “fake encounter”.

On Sunday, hundreds joined Thangkhiew’s funeral procession in Shillong, and local organisations called for a “black flag day” to protest his killing. On Saturday, the Hynniewtrep Youths’ Council (HYC) had put up banners in Shillong demanding justice for the slain militant.

Around 10.30 pm, petrol bombs were hurled by unidentified miscreants at Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s private residence in Upper Shillong area, government sources said. No damages were reported.

Meanwhile, pictures of damaged vehicles, including a black SUV set ablaze by unknown miscreants, as well as videos of stone-pelting by masked men dressed in black, have been circulating on social media.

Government sources told The Indian Express that the damaged SUV had been requisitioned by the police. “A crowd gheraoed the vehicle and the police personnel inside had no choice but to flee for their lives. Later, the miscreants drove the vehicle around the city, shouting slogans and brandishing arms. After that, it was damaged and set ablaze,” sources said.

Meghalaya Police did not respond to calls and messages from The Indian Express seeking comment. “The situation is dynamic and we are on the highest alert since some unruly elements seem to be taking advantage of the situation,” said a state official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In his resignation letter to CM Sangma, Ryumbui expressed shock at the killing of Thangkhiew “following the raid of police at his residence exceeding the lawful tenets of the law”.

Ryumbui asked the Chief Minister to accept his resignation “considering the gravity of the situation”. “This will facilitate a free and fair enquiry taken by the government to bring out the truth of the incident. I propose a judicial inquiry be conducted,” he wrote.

In a video statement, he said he had taken the step after consultation with his party’s leadership. Ryumbui belongs to the United Democratic Party, which is an ally of Sangma’s National People’s Party in the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government.

Earlier Sunday, an order from Isawanda Laloo, DC, East Khasi Hills district, said that a curfew under section 144 of the CrPc would be in effect in Shillong from 8 pm Sunday to 5 am Tuesday on account of “incidents of stone-pelting, arson and theft, and a serious breakdown of law and order in parts of Shillong city”.

Another notification issued by C V D Diengdoh, Secretary, Home Department, said mobile internet services would be banned for 48 hours in East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills and Ri-Bhoi because of “incidents of vandalism and arson”.

The 54-year-old Thangkhiew, considered by security officials as one of Meghalaya’s most dreaded militants, was the founding general secretary of the separatist HNLC and had surrendered before Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong in Shillong in October 2018.

The HNLC, which demands a sovereign Khasi homeland in Meghalaya, is a breakaway faction of the Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC), the first militant tribal outfit of the state, of which Thangkhiew was a founding member.

Following his death, the police had said they had “clear indications” that Thangkhiew was involved in Tuesday’s blast. Meghalaya DGP R Chandranathan, in a press conference, had said that Thangkhiew was also involved in an earlier IED blast in Khliehriat, East Jaintia Hills in July.

In a statement issued Friday, G K Iangrai, Assistant IGP, said that an operation was launched by the police on August 13 on the basis of “evidence”. “However, when the police team tried to enter inside his house in Kynton Massar, the surrendered cadre attacked the team with a knife as an attempt to escape,” it said.

According to the statement, the police exerted their right to “private defence” and “fired a single round which had hit the surrendered cadre, and after being hit, he was immediately rushed to Civil Hospital, Shillong for medical assistance but unfortunately, he succumbed to his injuries”. The statement said that a case had been registered to investigate the death.

On Saturday, Sangma had said that the police had received “credible and tangible information” of Thangkhiew’s involvement in the blasts. According to him, the police had submitted a report within 48 hours, as mandated by the National Human Rights Commission. “There will be a magisterial inquiry…which is under process,” Sangma had said.

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