An intense gun battle erupted in Meghalaya's East Garo Hills district on Thursday, as security forces launched a crackdown on a Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) hideout, whose members allegedly blew up a woman's head for resisting a sexual molestation, an official said.
The crackdown was launched on the GNLA camp two days after members of the militant group killed the 35-year-old Garo woman.
"The gun battle is on as rebels are continuing with their firing. The Special Weapons and Tactics team and Combat Battalion for Resolute Action commandos are retaliating," Davies NR Marak, the district police chief, told IANS.
The operation began early on Thursday in the Durama hills range across the Simsang River in the district where suspected assailants responsible for the killing were hiding in one of the outfit's camp, officials said.
Inspector general of police GHP Raju told PTI at least 40 to 50 militants were expected to be holed up at the camp and they were waiting for an actual report from the site in view of the rough terrain and bad connectivity.
The GNLA has openly acknowledged the killing and accused the woman of being a police informer.
"GNLA has verified and confirmed that the woman was the police source and she was responsible for the death of our training instructor Kram," GNLA political secretary Bikdot N Marak said in a statement.
The outfit in the statement also accused the editor of an influential Garo vernacular weekly of spreading "baseless and concocted" rumours.
The woman was shot at point blank range when she resisted molestation and rape attempt by GNLA men.
The gruesome murder was committed in front of her husband and children on Tuesday evening at remote Raja Rongat village in South Garo Hills district.
The GNLA, one of the five Garo tribal rebel groups, is fighting for a separate Garoland to be carved out of Meghalaya.
The outlawed militant outfit was co-founded by a senior police deserter Champion Sangma and Sohan D Shira, a militant, in 2010.
It is active in all the five districts in the Garo Hills region and is involved in kidnapping, extortion and killing of both civilians and security forces.
(With IANS and PTI inputs)