Thursday, April 26, 2007

Indians mull new strategy to counter Maoist threat


26 April 2007

NEW DELHI - Top officials from more than dozen Indian states met in New Delhi Thursday to construct a new strategy to counter a decades-old but worsening Maoist insurgency, home ministry officials said.

They said the government and police will “review and coordinate steps being taken by the affected states to effectively combat leftist guerrillas, a spokesman said.

The brainstorming meet comes just over a month after 55 policemen were killed by Maoists in central Chhattisgarh state in one of the worst ever attacks on Indian security forces.

The March 16 incident followed the assassination of high-profile federal MP Sunil Mahto by Maoists in neighbouring Jharkhand state on March 4. He was the first national-level politician to be assassinated by the left-wing rebels.

Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of neglected tribes and landless farmers. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Chhattisgarh and are now living in tent shelters as Indian counter-insurgency forces operate in the countryside.

Officials have said the Maoist insurgency threatens huge swathes of India’s centre, east and south and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoists as the single biggest threat to India’s internal security.

A federal home ministry official told AFP that one of the issues on the table during the one-day meeting was “how to strengthen intelligence gathering at the ground level.”

“There are some lacunae that exist and we need to plug those. Another issue that we could discuss is better coordination between the affected states, between their intelligence and police personnel,” he said.

“Often Maoists carry out attacks in one state and slip across the border into others and the trail goes cold. We need to focus on this too.”

The rebels, who launched their armed campaign in 1967, operate in another 14 of India’s 29 states. New Delhi refuses to negotiate with them.

Some 669 people died in 2005 in violence linked to more than 9,000 armed rebels who have spread over 15 states, according to government estimates.
In 2006, there were 1509 cases of Maoist violence which claimed 680 lives including that of 157 security men, 251 civilians and 272 rebels, according to India’s home ministry.

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