A battle has begun in a remote and heavily forested area in the Indian
state of West Bengal. Government troops have been sent there after
Maoist rebels seized a number of villages, began killing political
rivals and torching government offices and police stations.
Para-military troops have marched into a zone declared liberated from government control by insurgents.
say police fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse Maoist
sympathizers attempting to block the advance of government forces.
companies of Border Security and the Central Reserve Police forces are
being backed by a newly formed squad of 200 elite personnel, known as
COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action), trained specifically to
fight the Maoists.
Local media reports say gunfire is being
heard 170 kilometers from the state capital, Kolkata, where hundreds of
insurgents have placed women and children in front of them followed by
men wielding axes, bamboo sticks, bows and arrows.
West Bengal has been under control of an elected Communist government
for more than three decades, the ultra-left Maoists have declared war
on their ideological cousins.
The Maoists say they are
fighting on behalf of landless farmers and tribal members disenchanted
with the Communist state government's attempts to push
Communist Party politburo member Sitaram
Yechury, speaking to reporters in New Delhi, is optimistic the Maoists
can quickly be neutralized in West Bengal.
"We hope, as soon as
possible, normalcy should be restored there," said Yechury. "And we've
said that the central government, the central forces and the state
government should act in unison given the fact the prime minister
himself is on record to state that the Maoist violence is the single
largest threat to our internal security."
member Brinda Karat also told reporters here that the rebels do not
represent any legitimate cause but rather are "gangs intent on
Television channels carried an interview with the
Maoist's purported military commander, Koteshwar Rao, known as
Kishanji, his back to the cameras, claiming his forces are
well-entrenched and will not be dislodged by the government.
The insurgent leader says 2,000 villagers support their fight against corrupt police and state government officials.
India, there are believed to be as many as 20,000 rebels dedicated to
Maoist ideology, known as Naxalites, who operate from jungle bases.
They have attacked government centers in rural areas for decades.
Concerns have grown recently amid indications the insurgents, inspired
by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, are expanding their influence and