Tuesday, June 09, 2009

INTERVIEW-Maoist rebellion: India's big security worry

Tue Jun 9, 2009 5:46am EDT By Bappa Majumdar

NEW DELHI, June 9 (Reuters) - Maoist rebels in India are rapidly expanding their insurgency and could move from remote rural areas to cities, a top security official said on Tuesday.

The rebels are estimated to have 22,000 fighters, and have spread to more than 180 of the country's 630 districts from just 56 in 2001, government and independent data says.

"They have a very comprehensive plan to spread their tentacles into other parts of the country, including urban areas," M.L. Kumawat, special secretary (Internal Security) told Reuters in an interview.

"We now need highly specialised forces to deal with the sophisticated weapons they have. Our police forces will be capable, I cannot say they are capable to deal with them now."

Equipped with automatic weapons, shoulder rocket launchers, mines and explosives, the Maoists want to cripple economic activity. Last year they carried out at least 1,000 attacks, but most of these were in remote jungles and villages.

The Maoists, who say they are fighting for the rights of the poor and landless, control some of India's mineral-rich areas and operate in large swathes of the eastern, central and southern countryside.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist rebellion as one of the gravest security threats to India.

The Maoists have killed police and politicians, and targeted government buildings and railway tracks in an insurgency that has killed thousands since the 1960s.

But some recent attacks have been carried out closer to cities, and one such attack in Nayagarh, just 87 km (54 miles) from the state capital of mineral-rich Orissa, showed that they were moving closer. Similar attacks have taken place in towns in West Bengal state.

Kumawat said interrogation of Maoist leaders, recently arrested from cities like Bangalore and the state of Haryana, revealed their urban plans.

"Right now they may not be violent in these areas, but their presence cannot be ruled out ... the Naxal (Maoists) problem is not confined to one or two states anymore."

They are also in touch with other militant groups operating in Kashmir and the northeast, Kumawat said. "They are supporting other extremist groups in Jammu and Kashmir, and have linkages with northeastern militant groups."

Kumawat, who is also the chief of the Border Security Force (BSF), India's main frontier guarding agency, said $1.7 billion would be spent over the next five years to increase deployments along Pakistan and Bangladesh borders and modernise the force.

"After all there are training camps of many militant groups across the border and we have to strengthen our force." (Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Jeremy Laurence)

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