Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Maoist uprising suddenly bloodier

Shaikh Azizur Rahman, Foreign Correspondent

Last Updated: July 15. 2009 12:23AM UAE / July 14. 2009 8:23PM GMT MIDNAPORE, WEST BENGAL // The deaths of 29 policemen and two civilians that have been blamed on Maoist guerrillas could be part of an renewed push by the group to gain a wider foothold in India.

Authorities in the state of Chhattisgarh are still looking for 13 missing officers after the jungle ambush in the heavily forested Rajnandgaon district over the weekend.

The deaths follow the killing of two civilians in a village in West Bengal and authorities fear the group is waging a war of terror in the state and may launch further attacks.

“Intelligence coming from western and southern regions of the state indicate the police force might face more attacks from the Maoists,” Pawan Deo, a deputy inspector general of police in the Chhatisgarh capital of Raipur, said.

The rebels, estimated to have about 22,000 fighters, operate in large parts of the eastern, central and southern countryside and officials say they are spreading.

Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of poor farmers and the disenfranchised.
According to official statistics from India’s home ministry, in 2007 and 2008, there were 461 security officers killed by Maoists in India. But this year the official toll has already reached 230 and could go beyond 300.

The attacks on the police officers were the deadliest in what has been a grim year in the decades-long struggle between Maoist fighters, known as Naxalites, and the Indian government.

Last Friday the group killed two villagers after about 40 Maoists raided the village of Shirsi in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district. Witnesses said the rebels held a “people’s court” and beat about 20 men for supporting the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) and going against the Maoists.

They later killed Baren Mahato, a 54-year-old ration dealer, for “acting as police informer and not distributing ration to poor people properly”, along with Gurucharan Mahato, 50, a CPI-M leader, who was also accused of being a police informant.

The Maoists issued a statement claiming responsibility for the deaths and said they would continue killing until the joint police-paramilitary action against them stopped.
“They are killing people possibly to create fear in villages and expand their base,” said Ardhendu Sen, West Bengal’s home secretary.

Bablu Mahato, a resident of Shirsi, has fled to Midnapore, 18km away, with his wife and daughter.

“Carrying a list of the villagers they wanted to punish, they went from door-to-door fearlessly and dragged them to the ‘people’s court’ for punishment. Nobody dared to resist them and they conducted their actions fearlessly,” Mr Mahato said.

“In the people’s court they said that they were fighting against police and military and any villager trying to help the government or the security forces would not be spared.”

Witnesses say in the past week the Maoists organised at least three other “people’s courts” in nearby villages and ordered about 200 men who were identified by the Maoists as CPI-M workers or supporters to distance themselves from the party. Many of the threatened families have fled the area.

The Maoists started their armed struggle in West Bengal’s Naxalbari town in the late 1967 and have expanded their support among villagers by tapping into resentment at the government’s recent pro-industry push.

India’s government last month banned the Maoist political party with which the rebels are affiliated after beginning a broad offensive against the rebels in several important states.

In West Midnapore district, where about where about 300 armed guerrillas are active, the area has been declared “liberated” by the government, but police and paramilitary forces are continuing their operations against the Maoists.

aziz@thenational.ae

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