Indian rebels press home a national strike

March 23, 2010 at 9:27 AM
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NEW DELHI, March 23 (UPI) -- Maoist rebels in India's northeast have blown up a bridge and derailed trains at the start of its call for a national strike.

Militants used a land mine to destroy the road bridge in the state of Jharkhand and damaged train track rails 10 miles outside the city of Gaya in the state of Bihar, derailing seven cars of the Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express.

No injuries were reported in either incident but police said it was a miracle that no one was hurt when the train derailed, The Press Trust of India reported.

The Maoists, often called Naxalites, urged the public to stay home during the 48-hour strike, called a bandh. States affected are Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The Naxalites, one of the larger splinter rebel groups from India's legal Communist parties, have been fighting a low-level but sometimes deadly campaign against state and central governments since 1967.

They originated in the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal in India's remote forested and mineral-rich far eastern reaches. They demand more of the wealth from the resources be spread among the general population.

The public in larger urban areas hasn't widely responded to the current bandh, PTI said, but train travel was disrupted and electricity supply briefly interrupted in many rural areas because of trees felled.

Also, in many of the so-called Naxal-affected areas, the majority of shops pulled down their shutters and long-distance bus travel was almost non-existent.

Apart from the state police force, paramilitary forces and Railway Protection Force have been deployed to protect vital installations, sources said. They have also been dealing with the many local disruptions including unmanned physical roadblocks such boulders in roadways.

At the heart of many Naxal protests is the demand that the military pull back from its Operation Green Hunt, launched late last year, that coordinates counter-operations in all "left-wing, extremism-hit" states. While attacking Naxalite groups, it also calls for government forces to be stationed in Naxal-affected areas to win the hearts and minds of the local population.

Upward of 6,000 people have died in Naxal attacks over the past two decades, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs said. But since 2004 on average nearly 600 people have been killed each year, with a surge in deaths to 1,134 last year.

In October 2009 17 policemen were killed in Gadchiroli in the state of Maharashtra bordering on Bengal when 200 Naxals opened fire on a police post in broad daylight. The dead were all enlisted in the state's anti-Naxal militia. They had just returned from a reconnaissance trip observing Naxal bases in the area.

Last month Naxalite rebels killed 24 security personnel in a gun battle in West Bengal.

The increase in attacks and deaths prompted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to call the Naxalites "the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced" by India. But the government does attempt cease-fire negotiations from time to time with separate Naxalite groups.

It has also tried to ban bandhs.

In 2004, the Supreme Court of India fined two political parties, Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena for organizing a bandh in Mumbai as a protest against bomb blasts in the city.

The state with the maximum bandhs is West Bengal were the average number of bandhs a year is upward of 50, ranging from a couple of hours to two days.

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