Page last updated at 05:22 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Indian police fighting Maoists 'dying of malaria'

By Salman Ravi
BBC News, Jharkhand

Troops hunting for Maoist rebels
The government has begun a major offensive against the rebels

More than 100 policemen fighting Maoist rebels in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand have died of malaria in the past two years, a police body says.

The state police association told the BBC that "mosquitoes were killing more security forces than the rebels."

Paramilitary forces and the police have been stationed in forest camps for operations against the Maoists.

The rebels want communist rule in a large swathe of India. More than 6,000 people have died in the 20-year fight.

An official of the Jharkhand police association said more than 15 policemen had died of malaria in the jungle camps in the last four months.

'Tough challenge'

"We are fighting malaria as we are fighting the Maoist rebels. The mosquitoes are deadlier than the Maoists since we are more vulnerable to their attacks," association president Akhileshwar Pandey told the BBC.

Scores of policemen engaged in anti-rebel operations have been taken to hospital in Jharkhand - many of them suffering from cerebral malaria, doctors say.

A senior police official said the security forces were facing a "tough challenge" from mosquitoes.

Awdhesh Kumar Singh said measures are being taken to equip the troopers with anti-malaria medicines and lotions.

Police unions have told the BBC that a number of policemen have sold off their property to raise money for treatment in private hospitals.

Thousands of people die of malaria in India every year.

The rebels have a presence in more than a third of India's 600 districts and are in effective control of a so-called "red corridor" across the centre of the country.

They say they are fighting for the rights of the rural poor who complain they have been neglected by successive governments for decades.

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