Tura: The police action that led to the extra-judicial killing of former HNLC militant leader Cherishterfield Thangkhiew was the result of credible evidence of his involvement in several IED blasts in Meghalaya, as well as intelligence inputs on an impending blast at Shillong’s commercial hub, the Police Bazar, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said during an explosive interview with EastMojo Editor-in-chief Karma Paljor

The death of Thangkhiew had made national headlines and saw the ex-militant’s sympathisers march through Shillong while disrupting the Independence Day celebrations in 2021. Meghalaya remained on edge for days and the extrajudicial killing of Thangkhiew was condemned by all sections of society.   

“There (were) a number of IED blasts taking place in the state. Our report, which was made public, mentioned that there was full evidence and knowledge from multiple intelligence agencies that another bomb would go off in the next 24-48 hours at the Police Bazar, a very important commercial location,” Sangma said. 

Thangkhiew, the self-styled general secretary of the banned rebel outfit HNLC and one of the most dreaded militant leaders in Meghalaya, had surrendered before Meghalaya Deputy CM Prestone Tynsong at Shillong in October 2018. The 56-year-old was then killed during an encounter, according to the police, when a joint team of the East Jaintia Hills police and East Khasi Hills police raided his house in connection with the IED blasts in the state.

According to the chief minister, the police had to move in the situation based on intelligence inputs. “The intention was not to kill anybody. But when evidence like this comes in and the police do not act, you can imagine what would have happened had the bomb gone off,” Sangma told EastMojo.

Following massive protests calling it a ‘fake encounter’, the Meghalaya government had initiated a one-person judicial inquiry under retired chief justice T Vaiphei to probe whether the former rebel leader was killed in a fake encounter, or in self-defence, according to the police’s version. 

Sangma told EastMojo that the police had to do whatever they did “in the interest of the larger safety and security of the public, which is their primary job”. 

Justice Vaiphei’s report, however, called it a “botched up operation”, which failed in its objective of apprehending the former militant leader alive, who could have given the police valuable information about the subversive activities of the proscribed HNLC outfit.

The report also found that forced entry into the house of the deceased in darkness and his subsequent killing was a “reckless exercise and tantamount to disproportionate use of force”.

Recalling the heat his government faced in the aftermath of Thangkhiew’s death, Sangma told EastMojo, “If you see the larger picture and if you were to see why this happened and how it happened, I think one would appreciate the kind of efforts made to bring the law and order situation under control. Whether what happened was right or wrong, that’s something I don’t want to comment on as a judicial enquiry was done. But yes, we faced a bit of a challenge, we faced a bit of heat. But I guess in difficult situations like these, such things do happen and I guess we have to face them.”

Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K Sangma spoke about this and several other crucial topics during a freewheeling conversation with EastMojo Editor-in-chief Karma Paljor in Episode 2 of Karma Conversations, coming soon.

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