Wednesday, April 22, 2009

250 Maoists hijack train in eastern India

By Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

Published: April 22 2009 06:47 | Last updated: April 22 2009 08:51

Maoist rebels in India’s restive state of Jharkhand hijacked a train with hundreds of passengers on board and held it hostage on Wednesday, just a day before the state’s voters were due to participate in the second phase of India’s Parliamentary elections.

However, the radical leftist rebels freed the train – and all the passengers on board – around four hours after the 7.30am hijacking.

The rebels – known in India as Naxalites – have called for an election boycott, and analysts said the temporary capture of the train was intended to generate fear among the electorate and discourage participation in tomorrow’s voting in state.

In addition to hijacking the train, leftist rebels attacked several oil tankers and trucks, killing at least one driver; blew up an empty school building, and burned down a small railway station and a small government office. The attacks occurred both in Jharkhand and the neighbouring state of Bihar.

Authorities say around 250 suspected Maoists were involved in the capture of the train, which was held in the remote Hehegara station in a Naxalite stronghold.

The hijacking of the passenger train is the latest in a string of audacious attacks by the leftist rebels – known in India as Naxalites – and reflects their growing tactical capacity across an ever-growing swathe of Indian territory.

Last week, around 200 Naxal rebels stormed Asia’s largest bauxite mine in the eastern state of Orissa, taking around 100 employees of the state-owned mine. The leftist guerrillas battled for more than nine hours with members of India’s Special Operations Group and its Central Industrial Security Force before they finally retreated.

Workers at the mine, run by NALCO, have since refused to return to work.

Naxalite rebels have hijacked a number of trains in the past, but usually free the passengers unharmed.

In the parliamentary election campaign, India’s two largest political parties, the incumbent Congress and its rival Bharatiya Janata Party have accused each other of being “soft on terrorism” believed to be emanating from neighbouring Pakistan. The BJP has also sought to capitalise on lingering public anger

Yet the attacks by the Maoist guerrillas on trains and government buildings highlights the serious security threat India face from its own disgruntled citizens in the remote rural areas that have yet to benefit from the growing prosperity in other parts of India.

Around 18 people were killed in Naxal violence in the first phase of India’s election last week. India’s five-phase election, which involves some 714m voters, began last week and will conclude on May 13, with results to be announced on May 16.

No comments: