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Cell phones to fight India rebels

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Ranchi

Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh
Maoists have a presence in 182 districts of India

The government in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand has given free mobile phones to more than 200 village leaders to help fight Maoist rebels.

Police say the aim is to receive swift tip-offs about rebel movements.

They say the scheme is already proving very useful and there are plans to extend it - despite fears the headmen might be targeted by the rebels.

Large parts of mineral-rich Jharkhand are controlled by Maoists who regularly attack police and government offices.

'Get information'

Police in Jharkhand have been trying desperately to generate accurate intelligence about the movement of the Maoist hit-squads and their camps in the deep interior of the state.

"The government is distributing mobile phones to village headmen in the areas where the Maoists are most active," Sudhir Kumar, police chief of the worst-affected district East Singbhum, said.

"The idea is to get immediate information about any Maoist movement and respond to it swiftly."

Some 220 village headmen have already received mobile phones; more are due to get them in weeks to come, police officials say.

Villagers have been provided with important police numbers to call up in the event of an emergency or if they notice Maoist movements.

Officials say the government will pay the bills for the phones, but that they will have to guard against misuse.

Mr Kumar says the "initial response has been good" and that a lot of village headmen have been calling up to give information about the Maoists, some of which has proved "very useful".

Village leaders contacted by the BBC said they were "very happy" with the free mobile phones.

"We have used these phones to call in the police twice when the Maoists turned up near our village. The police arrived and attacked the Maoists and crushed them," one headman in East Singbhum said.

Intelligence officials say this may make the headmen a specific target of the rebels.

"The Maoists may now try to snatch the mobiles from the village headmen and plant information on the police by using them. The police may be lured into traps by the rebels," said Amiyo Kumar Samanta, a senior intelligence officer.

Threat

Jharkhnd is under presidential rule, which ensures Delhi's direct control over its administration.

More than 6,000 people have died during the Maoists' 20-year fight for a communist state in parts of India.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of poor peasants and landless workers.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the Maoist insurgency is the "single biggest threat" to India's security.

The rebels operate in 182 districts in India, mainly in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal.

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