India says it will push forward with Maoist offensive despite major attack

By Indrajit Singh, AP
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

India says it will push on with Maoist offensive

PATNA, India — India will push ahead with an offensive against Maoist rebels despite the death of 76 government troops in an ambush by insurgents in the east, the country’s top security official said Wednesday.

The ambush in a dense forest Tuesday was the deadliest single attack on government fighters in the 43-year-old insurgency. It stunned Indians, highlighted the growing threat posed by the Maoists and showed that the rebels appeared uncowed by a government offensive aimed at crushing them.

Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram flew to the area Wednesday and laid a wreath near the coffins of the slain security forces.

He insisted the government would not back down.

“I think we should, while we grieve the dead, hold our nerve and continue to do what we are doing — namely to rid India of the gravest threat to internal security, which is the Naxalite threat,” he said, referring to the Maoists by their nickname. “This is a long, drawn-out struggle. It will take two to three years, perhaps more.”

The rebels, who have tapped into the rural poor’s growing anger at being left out of the country’s economic gains, are now present in 20 of the country’s 28 states. About 2,000 people — including police, militants and civilians — have been killed over the past few years.

Last year, the government announced its “Operation Green Hunt” offensive aimed at flushing the militants out of their forest hide-outs. Both the insurgents and government forces have been accused of using violence and intimidation against local villagers to coerce their cooperation.

The government has said it is willing to talk with the rebels if they give up violence, but the rebels say there should be no preconditions for negotiations.

Chidambaram took a harder line Wednesday.

“To our offer of talks, they have replied by savage and brutal acts of violence. To talk of talks now would be to mock the supreme sacrifice made by the (slain troops),” he said.

Part of the difficulty with the offensive is that it is being carried out by various state police agencies and national paramilitary forces loosely coordinated by the central government. Critics have said the troops are poorly trained and underequipped and are essentially canon fodder for rebels fighting on their home turf in the jungles.

“We can’t expect instant success,” Chidambaram said. “We are paying the price for the neglect of the last 10 to 12 years.”

More than 500 Maoists launched the attack early Tuesday morning on a group of soldiers who set out from a temporary base in Chhattisgarh state’s Dantewada forests, said G.K. Pillai, the federal home secretary. More soldiers were killed when they stepped on land mines the Maoists planted throughout the ambush zone, he said.

Two separate groups of reinforcements rushed to the area to help but came under fire as well, Chidambaram said. The casualties came from bombs, grenades, bullets and land mines, he said.

The rebels, who rarely speak to the media, did not issue a statement on the attack.

Named after Naxalbari, the village in West Bengal state where their movement was born in 1967, the Naxalites have an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters.

While many are poorly armed — often going into battle with handmade weapons forged from plumbing pipes — they regularly launch bloody attacks on government forces. In February, they killed at least 24 police officers in West Bengal state in an attack on a police camp.

The government dismisses the Naxalites’ claim to speak for the country’s poor, arguing they do little but wreak havoc in some of India’s most impoverished regions.

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