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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 January, 2005, 11:27 GMT
Why peace collapsed in Andhra Pradesh
By Omer Farooq
BBC News, Hyderabad

Maoist rebel Shakamuri Appa Rao. Photo: Omer Farooq
The rebels say they are being targeted by the police
After eight months of peace in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, the guns have started booming once again and the body count is mounting with each passing day.

Maoist rebels this week announced their withdrawal from peace negotiations with the state government following a series of encounters with the police.

The fatalities on both sides have been mounting - the rebels have killed four people including a policeman and a local leader of the state's ruling Congress party. They also burnt several buses and targeted government property.

The much hyped peace process - which began in May when Congress came to power in the state with the promise of peace talks - now lies shattered.

'Combing operation'

The rebels were formerly known as the People's War Group. But in October the two largest of various left-wing rebel groups in the country merged.

The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-M) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML) say that the government's attitude has forced them to end the peace talks.

Security forces in Hyderabad
A climate of fear is developing in Andhra Pradesh

The CPI-ML state secretary, Ramakrishna, joined five other leaders of the two parties to issue a statement.

It said that the rebels were pulling out of the peace process because of what they described as "combing operations by the Greyhound".

The Greyhounds are an elite police force set up to fight the insurgents. They carry out search operations in Maoist held areas which are known as "combing operations".

The statement released by the insurgents also accused the police of staging - or "faking" - encounters to kill their members.

Maoist rebels in India
May 2004: Congress comes to power in Andhra Pradesh with a poll promise that it will hold peace talks with Maoist rebels
June 2004: The rebels and the government agree to a ceasefire for three months
October 2004: Maoist underground leaders address a huge rally for the first time in three and a half decades
October 2004: Talks between the rebels and the state government end without any agreement, and the rebels return to their jungle hideouts
January 2005: Maoist rebels announce withdrawal from peace talks after a series of clashes with police

They accused Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Rajashekhar Reddy of running a "fascist regime" worse than the previous Telugu Desam party government which fought a long-running campaign against the rebels.

Mr Reddy was accused of "deceiving" the rebels by promising peace in the election campaign and now giving the police a "free hand".

The breakdown of the peace process over the last few weeks has left many people in Andhra Pradesh shocked and confused.

Mediators appointed to arbitrate between the government and the Maoists say the government is at fault for the recent downturn, as it failed to restrain the police.

"It was agreed that the police would not undertake combing operations against the Maoists," said the leading civil liberties activist KG Kannabiran, who is also one of the eight mediators.

"Why was there a need for the police to become so active, launching combing operations and killing the extremists in encounters?" he asked.

'Fear and extortion'

Mr Kannabiran argued that the government was not abiding by the terms of the ceasefire.

Victims of rebel attack in Andhra Pradesh
The people of Andhra Pradesh are seeing a return to conflict

But such conclusions are firmly rebuffed by the chief minister.

"We cannot shut our eyes if [the rebels] move around in the villages with weapons, creating fear, extorting money, encroaching upon land.

"Maintaining law and order is the duty of an elected government. The extremists want police not to enter the villages. It is not acceptable. In a democracy only the police have a right to keep weapons. The extremists should lay down their arms," he said.

Mr Reddy insisted that the state government was trying to ensure a peaceful environment in order to implement the promises it made to the rebels in the first round of talks in October.

More sweeteners

It includes the distribution of 100,000 acres of land to landless people in the state to coincide with Republic Day on 26 January.

In what looks like a last ditch effort to save the current process, the state government has renewed its commitment to continue the peace talks, but insists that the Maoists should not move with weapons in their villages.

It has also ordered an inquiry into five encounters between rebels and the police, and promised action if the police are found guilty of heavy handedness.

But such initiatives are not expected to placate the Maoists, who after announcing their intention to withdraw from the peace process are unlikely to soften their stand without more sweeteners.

The rebels - fighting in several Indian states to bring an armed revolution - have already made clear that they will not lay down their weapons even if the peace talks succeed.

"The talks are not about the armed struggle but are about efforts to solve some immediate socio-economic problems of the people," Ramakrishna said earlier.

Maoist violence and counter-action by the police has claimed more than 6,000 lives in the last two and a half decades in Andhra Pradesh.

With the rebels vowing to target the police, government personnel and ruling party leaders, there is now a sense of fear and panic in the state.

Police have gone on high alert in Maoist-affected areas and security has been strengthened for top political figures. Grassroot leaders are quitting elected positions in areas where the rebels are active and heading towards the safer areas.

The recent turn of events in Andhra Pradesh means that it is ordinary people who are now left in the lurch.

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