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India Maoists Free Passenger Train, Hostages

Police in eastern India say communist rebels have released hundreds of train passengers they took hostage Wednesday, a day before the next phase of the country's general elections.

Media reports say about 200 rebels swarmed the train Wednesday in the eastern state of Jharkhand, and forced the driver to take it to a remote area near the town of Hehegarha. Police say the passengers were unharmed.

Indian insurgency researcher P.V. Ramana, author of the book, "The Naxal Challenge" contends the attackers had no intention to harm their hostages.

"They did not want to kill any innocent people. The logic is very simple," he said. "For a movement that claims that it could sustain itself on people's support, if they kill innocent people they would just be eating into their own support base."

Other incidents reported

The hijacking of the train was one of several incidents reported Wednesday in Jharkand and Bihar, a day before a second phase of voting in those rural states.

The Maoist rebels - part of a wider Naxalite insurgency - are also blamed in the domestic media for destroying a railway station, a polling place, a government community center and setting on fire several trucks in the same region. The Press Trust of India reports one truck driver was killed.

The extremists have threatened to continue attacking polling places during the election, which is being conducted in five phases.

In the initial phase of voting, last week, Naxalites were blamed for a series of attacks on security personnel, election workers and polling booths, in which at least 18 people died. Many voters in Naxal-infested districts defied the boycott with the election commission calling the initial turnout "appreciable."

Who are Naxalites?

For decades, the Naxalites have waged a violent campaign on the behalf of landless peasants and poor farmers in areas where there is little development and the Indian government has scant infrastructure.

Regional security analyst P.V. Ramana blames these latest attacks on the violent underground Maoist offshoot of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

"All Maoists are Naxalites. All Naxalites are not Maoists. This violence is being done by cadres of the CPI-Maoists," he noted. "The objective of this group is to capture political power through protracted people's war or an armed revolution. They feed upon perceived or genuine grievances, neglect and discrimination of the people."

The insurgent Naxalites, believed to have thousands of armed supporters in the central and eastern part of the country, are considered terrorists by India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has referred to the guerillas as the country's most serious domestic security threat.