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India in new anti-Maoist strategy

By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Delhi

Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh
Maoists have a presence in more than 200 districts of India

The Indian government has agreed on a new tactic to fight Maoists who are operating in several states.

Officials say state police are to take the lead in co-ordinating operations against the Maoists, while central forces are only to lend assistance.

The decision came hours after at least 17 policemen were killed in a battle with Maoist insurgents in the western state of Maharashtra.

India says that Maoist insurgents pose its biggest security threat.

They operate in many states and say they are fighting for the rights of the poor and landless.

Remanded

Maoists have a presence in over 223 of India's 600-odd districts across 20 states, according to the government.

Around 70,000 central paramilitary troops along with elite commando and special forces will be deployed in the upcoming operation against the rebels.

The troops will be provided cover by the army and armoured air force helicopters.

A senior government official told the BBC that the operation is to be launched within weeks to "wipe out the top leadership" of the rebels and secure some 40,000 sq km of territory that is being held by them.

The government believes there are less than 20 top rebel leaders, nearly 30 commanders, and some 12,000 cadres.

A senior home ministry official pointed out that last month the government managed to arrest top Maoist leaders Amit Bagchi and Kobad Ghandy, taking the total number of arrested "politburo members" to seven.

The Maoist leadership has consistently maintained that their strength has been "overestimated" by the government.

What is not contested is that areas where the insurgents wield most influence are mostly poor and dominated by tribes people. They are also areas widely seen as being rich in mineral wealth which the Maoists say is being handed over to corporate firms while the poor remain deprived.

Troops hunting for Maoist rebels in India
A massive security operation against the rebels will be launched soon

The government has come to the conclusion that development work can take place in the affected areas only after the rebels are defeated.

A recent statement by the Maoist leadership called upon its armed cadres to paralyse government functioning, attack and kill police and paramilitary soldiers and destabilise administrative functioning.

There have been over 1,400 cases related to violence by Maoists between January and August, according to official records. Nearly 600 civilians have died over that period.

In the latest attack on Thursday evening, a group of Maoists attacked a police station in Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra.

At least 17 policemen, including a top commander, were killed in the battle. It was not clear whether the rebels suffered any casualties.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told police chiefs last month that a campaign against the rebels had failed to produce results.



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