Thursday, August 25, 2005

Maharashtra keeps eyes peeled for Maoists


Mumbai, Aug. 24: The Maharashtra government has beefed up its security and intelligence network in Naxalite-affected areas bordering Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The move follows intelligence reports that Maoists fleeing after last week’s crackdown by Andhra could enter the state through the forest areas of Gadchiroli, which borders the two rebel-hit states.

“We expect this as a short term fall-out. It is likely that Naxalite leaders could flee either to Bastar or into Gadchiroli. We have scaled our operations accordingly,” Gadchiroli superintendent of police Shirish Jain said.

Violence erupted in Gadchiroli on Sunday when a group of 20-25 uniformed Maoists torched a state transport bus near Kosmi, a village on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border, after forcing the 20-odd bus passengers to alight. Though no one was hurt, officials fear the incident could affect the skeletal state transport service to the region.

“Two state transport officials who visited the spot under police escort to survey the damage were fired at. This group was what we call the Area Raksha Dalam or the local dalam (armed groups),” Jain said over telephone.

Senior officials involved with anti-Naxalite operations in Mumbai said incidents of this kind could harm the cause of the Maoists as they could erode the sympathy of local residents. “This was the only bus that connected that region. The local population will suffer because of the impact of this incident,” a senior police officer said.

Officials have welcomed the Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy government’s decision to re-impose the ban on the CPI (Maoist) after fruitless talks with rebel leaders. “During the ceasefire, the Naxalite activity had increased considerably in Gadchiroli. Arms supply had multiplied. Several training camps were set up,” an official said.

The teams handling anti-Naxalite operations hope that quick implementation of a surrender policy announced by the Vilasrao Deshmukh government could curb the rebel influence in Gadchiroli, where 22 police personnel have been killed in the first six months of 2005, the highest in the past five years.

The policy proposes cash incentives and rehabilitation of rebels willing to say farewell to arms, education for children of dalam commanders, land and withdrawal of pending criminal cases.

“Our intelligence shows that fence-sitters and women and children would be eager to surrender. In fact, a group of 20 to 25 Naxalites are waiting for the policy to be implemented, and they would be willing to surrender immediately,” said a police officer.

At a meeting in June, senior officials, who have been grappling with problems like lack of weapons and unwillingness of policemen to be posted in Gadchiroli, convinced deputy chief minister R.R. Patil about the urgent need for rehabilitation policies. The government then sanctioned four anti-mine vehicles, filled up at least one of the two posts of additional superintendent of police and framed a surrender policy.

Last December, state police discovered an arms-manufacturing factory in the heart of Nagpur. Among the weapons seized were light machine guns and two-inch rocket launchers. “Our investigations showed that Naxalites had enrolled people in ITIs to provide them with advanced technical training,” said an intelligence source.

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