Page last updated at 06:53 GMT, Friday, 19 June 2009 07:53 UK

Indian forces close in on Maoists

Security forces approaching Lalgarh
The forces are moving in to wrest control of the area from rebels

Indian security forces are closing in on the Lalgarh region of West Bengal state, where Maoist rebels have taken control, officials say.

Troops are just a few kilometres away having removed impromptu road blocks set up by local villagers.

A "human shield" formed by the villagers to impede the troops' progress has now been abandoned, reports say.

Earlier this week, the rebels drove out the local police after deadly clashes.

The state government subsequently called in more than 1,000 paramilitary troops to retake the area after the police fled.

Some villagers have already left fearing more clashes with security forces.

On Thursday, hundreds of baton-wielding police charged and fired tear gas shells at a crowd of almost 3,000 in Pirakata, on the outskirts of Lalgarh.

Meanwhile, the bodies of four more communist workers have been found, taking the number of party workers killed in recent violence to 10.

The four bodies were found outside Lalgarh. The men were among six party workers who police suspect were kidnapped by the rebels.

Maoist-linked violence has killed 6,000 people in India over the past 20 years.

'Bloodbath' fears

The police clashing with villagers outside Lalgarh
Villagers have clashed with the police outside Lalgarh

West Bengal interior minister Ardhendu Sen has appealed to villagers to allow the security forces to enter Lalgarh.

"Please don't get used by the Maoists. Please move away. We don't want a bloodbath," Mr Sen said in an appeal to the villagers.

Earlier, rebel leader Kishanji told the BBC in a telephone interview that the federal and state governments should stop troops from entering the area.

He said the government should hold meetings with the local people to learn about their grievances.

The tribespeople-dominated Lalgarh area in West Bengal's West Midnapore district has been under the virtual control of the rebels since November.

Armed rebels are now reportedly patrolling roads there.

Over the past few days, villagers backed by the rebels have taken over more villages in the area and burnt down and demolished offices belonging to the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M).

'Liberated zone'

The BBC's Amitabh Bhattashali in Calcutta says hundreds of CPI(M) workers have left Lalgarh in recent days as a result of the violence.

The Maoists claimed it as their first "liberated" zone in West Bengal.

Our correspondent says that taking control of Lalgarh is part of a long-term plan for the Maoists.

The area encompasses vast tracts of the forests of West Midnapur, Purulia and Bankura districts of West Bengal and adjoins parts of the states of Jharkhand and Orissa.

Violence in Lalgarh began last November after West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya narrowly escaped a landmine blast blamed on the rebels.

Protests were launched when a number of locals were arrested on suspicion of attempting to assassinate him.

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