India prepares for Maoist assault

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  1. LETHALFORCE

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    BBC NEWS | South Asia | India prepares for Maoist assault

    India prepares for Maoist assault


    The Indian Home Minister, P Chidambaram, says the government will extend "every support" to states battling left-wing Maoist extremism.

    Mr Chidambaram was assessing state security in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand as the government prepares for what it says will be an all-out assault.

    About 20,000 troops are being sent to the two states to join 35,000 already stationed there ahead of the offensive.

    The Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of the poor.

    They operate in a large swathe of territory across central and eastern India.

    More than 6,000 people have been killed during their 20-year fight for a communist state.

    "The centre is committed to fight Naxalism [Maoism]," Mr Chidambaram said. "We will provide all possible help to... eradicate the left-wing extremists completely," he told reporters here.

    The home minister hailed the Chhattisgarh government's efforts to fight Maoists and said all steps to provide "succour to kin of security men killed in the fight against Naxalism" have been taken.

    Correspondents say any offensive is not expected to be launched before October.

    On Friday Mr Chidambaram met Chhattisgarh Governor ESL Narsimhan to discuss the Maoist threat.

    Last week a fierce gun battle between Maoists and the security forces took place in Chhattisgarh. At least seven Maoists were killed and one paramilitary soldier.

    India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said earlier this month that his country was losing the battle against the rebels.

    Mr Singh told a meeting of police chiefs from different states that rebel violence was increasing and the Maoists' appeal was growing.

    The rebels operate in 182 districts in India.
     
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    Army promises maximum restraint against Maoists, says they are 'our own people'


    RAIPUR: The chief of the army's central command surveyed Abhujmaadh forests from the air and then landed in Raipur to allay anxieties over a potential conflict escalation in the Maoist controlled forest in
    Chhattisgarh's Narayanpur district where the army plans to train its troops.

    "We will exercise maximum restraint. This is our country, they are our people," said Lieutenant Gen Vijay Ahluwalia, emphasising that the army would be deployed solely for the purpose of training.

    He said the training will be restricted to manoeuvres with no firing drills and that it would be gradually scaled up to the brigade level. A brigade had 3000 troopers.

    "The time frame will be dictated by the consultations with the state government," he said, adding that Chhattisgarh government had offered 500 square kilometres to the army for jungle warfare training in 2007.
    "We are considering 2-3 locations. The area could be 20 x 25 kms or larger".

    Later, he added that the process was being delayed since there were no revenue records for the land on offer. This confirms that the training range will be inside Abhujmaadh, and not on its edges, as was indicated earlier.

    Abhujmaadh is an unsurveyed forest spread over 4000 square kilometres. It is believed to be controlled by Maoists, who have declared it a liberated area'.

    The army's move to train its troops inside a Maoist stronghold has triggered speculation over whether this will eventually result in army deployment against the insurgents.

    The leadership of CPI Maoist certainly believes so. In a statement dated January 22, Maoist spokesperson Gudsa Usendi asked people to oppose the army's entry, warning of impending "civil war" in the area.

    The army, too, has expressed concerns over the possibility of its troops coming under Maoist attack. "I do not think the Maoists will attack the army, but in case the contingency arises, we have asked the government what will be the legal safeguards available to us," said Lt Gen Ahluwalia.

    On Monday, in a television interview, the army chief V K Singh stated even more clearly, "Lets say while training, they come into an ambush, my troops are going to fire back, that's what they are taught. If they fire back and drop people (dead), and some people are able to take their (dead Maoists) weapons away, which is what often happens, then big clamour takes place that army has killed innocents.."

    Currently, the army operates in Kashmir and the North East under the cover of Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA). The controversial act, applicable after an area has been notified as 'disturbed area', gives the army immunity from criminal proceedings, that human rights activists allege has amounted to giving the army the impunity to kill.

    The army chief said he did not want AFSPA for Maoist affected areas, yet he repeated in the TV interview, " If something happens, somebody should not drag my troops to the court saying they have committed murder.."

    "This is a political decision being taken at the highest level," said a senior army officer, on the condition of anonymity. "Even we are concerned about how it will play out".
     

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