Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Polls over, central forces to crack down on Naxals



NEW DELHI: With the assembly election to five states complete, the Centre is preparing for a major redeployment of Central forces tied up so far with the polling exercise. A chunk of the 772 companies spared for election duty will be moved to Chhattisgarh to enable an intensified counter-offensive against Naxalites.

Details regarding the crackdown on Naxal hideouts, possibly using helicopters, will be discussed at a meeting on Saturday between officials of the Union home ministry and Chhattisgarh government. To be chaired by Union home secretary V K Duggal, the meeting will deliberate on the operational plan submitted by the state government on May 5 for the stepped-up offensive that will cover Naxal havens like the Abujmarh forests.

At the May 13 meeting, the MHA is likely to agree to a major concentration of Central forces in the state. At the same time, the ministry is likely to insist that the state government ensure a proper back-up of its own forces, including police personnel as well as IR battalions, so that when some of the Central forces are required to be pulled out, there would be no major void in security.

This, according to the MHA, can be ensured by filling up thousands of vacancies in state police and raising the sanctioned number of IR battalions. The state will be asked to give an estimate on when the force back-up can be in place.

Chhattisgarh has of late bore the brunt of Naxal attacks, recording as many as 172 incidents and 137 killings between January 1 and March 31 this year. This is a sharp rise from 99 incidents and 10 killings during the corresponding period of 2005. The surge in Naxal violence is being attributed by the Central and state agencies to the ongoing anti-extremism popular movement, or Salwa Judoom, in the state.

Worried about the high number of civilian casualties, which mainly comprise Salwa Judoom activists, the Centre and the state government had at a meeting of co-ordination centre on Left-wing extremism in April agreed on the need for pre-emptive strikes to deal with the rise in Naxal operations.

However, with the elections then underway and the Central forces tied up, the proposed crackdown was planned post May 8, when polling was to be completed.

At another meeting chaired by Mr Duggal late last month, the MHA had asked the Chhattisgarh government to submit a complete operational plan detailing the desired number of forces, helicopters and other logistics needed for the proposed crackdown. The plan, also vetted by newly-appointed advisor to the state government K P S Gill, was submitted to the MHA on May 5.

The plan is believed to suggest joint anti-Naxal offensive by Central forces and state police using helicopters to para-drop personnel into the heavily-forested Naxal hideouts.

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