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Champion SangmaBy Ratul Baruah

Shillong, July 15: The jailed GNLA chief Champion Sangma may not have any more direct link with the Assam-based ULFA, but he still carries a “gift” from the outfit.

Every time he steps out of the jail for a court hearing, the once hard core militant leader wears a “gamosa”, a traditional Assamese towel, around his neck.

The white cotton towel was gifted to him by a colleague of none other than Paresh Baruah, the hard-line ULFA commander-in-chief.

“I forgot his name… but this towel carries a lot of value for me… I wear it whenever I was taken out by them (police),” Sangma told The Meghalaya Guardian while he was waiting for his turn for hearing of his bail plea in a lower court here today.

Expressing his affection towards the Assam and its people, Champion said, “This ‘gamosa’ is sign of my love for the Assamese people… We have been bound by century-old ties.”

He said he always wanted a good relation to be maintained with the neighbouring state.

“I also met Paresh Baruah in Myanmar,” said Champion, whose post of chairman the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) is yet to fill up, seen as an act of respect to the jailed leader.

While the Paresh Baruah-led United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has lost its strength over the years, the activities of GNLA, now led by its ‘commander-in-chief’ Sohan D Shira, are still a big challenge for the government.

Champion also revealed that he had met founder ULFA leader Anup Chetia in a Bangladesh jail where both were lodged before Champion was handed over to the BSF on the Indo-Bangla border at Pyrdiwah in East Khasi Hills district.

“He (Chetia) has in-depth knowledge about the situation in North-east. He is a resourceful man. While Paresh Baruah is known for his temper and military skills, Anup Chetia is respected for his insight on policy matters,” he whispered to this reporter in the corridor as hearing of other cases continued.

Although Champion was handed over by Bangladesh to India, the Indian security forces, in absence of an extradition treaty, had never formally admitted it and said he was spotted at Pyrdiwah and arrested there.

The GNLA chairman had left his “secured” job of a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) to form the GNLA along with Sohan D Shira in 2009.

He is perhaps the only high ranking police official to lead any militant outfit among over hundred armed groups in the North-east.

(Published in The Meghalaya Guardian on July 16, 2015)