Tuesday, February 16, 2010

India Official Condemns Deadly Maoist Attack


NEW DELHI—India's home minister Tuesday condemned an attack by Maoist rebels on a military outpost in eastern India that killed 24 soldiers and injured three.

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Associated Press
Charred remains of the police camp ambushed by suspected Maoist rebels at Shilda.

The attack by the Naxalites on a paramilitary outpost near a rural market in the eastern state of West Bengal inflicted one of the highest number of casualties in a single-day on the Indian security forces battling the rebels, officials said. The severity of the attack underscored the challenges facing the ruling Congress party-led government in taming the rising insurgency.

The attack Monday was "another outrageous attempt by the banned organization to overawe the established authority," Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in a statement. He called on Indian citizens to condemn the violence and to help end "the menace of Naxalism, and bring development and progress to the people in the conflict zones."

In the past, Mr. Chidambaram has said the government is ready for talks with the rebels should they give up the use of violence.

A top Maoist leader who called local media late Monday to claim responsibility for the attack, said his group was ready to start talks with the government if it ended its offensive against the rebels.

The latest attack showed the audacity and change in tactics by the Naxalites, even as the government has ratcheted up its offensive against the insurgents over the past year.

"It was the first kind of attack with so much planning and firepower that we witnessed from them," said Pandey Santosh, additional superintendent of police for West Medinipur.

A group of 100 armed Maoists in plainclothes mingled with the local market crowd Monday, then laid siege to the makeshift paramilitary camp there, where about 60 paramilitary personnel were resting after the day's patrol.

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An officer carries his colleague's belongings from a military outpost that was attacked by Maoist rebels in Silda village.

"They threw grenades from all sides before the forces could think of retaliating," Mr. Santosh said. He said the insurgents sped off in motorcycles and vans before disappearing into a nearby forest.

In recent years, the Naxalites, who advocate the overthrow of the Indian government, have made significant inroads in the center and south of the country. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called Naxalism the biggest internal-security challenge India faces.

The government has deployed an increasing number of security forces to fight the Naxalites and regain territory lost to them.

The death toll in the insurgency rose 36% to 1,125 in 2009, compared with the year earlier, according to India's Ministry of Home Affairs. Last week, Mr. Chidambaram said it was possible the trend of rising casualties would continue this year, too.

Medinipur is one of the three districts of West Bengal with a heavy Naxalite presence. West Bengal is the home to the Naxalites. The movement derives its name from the Naxalbari village in West Bengal, where it began as a peasants' uprising in the late 1960s.

Write to Krishna Pokharel at krishna.pokharel@wsj.com

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