Indian Troops Launch Offensive in West Bengal Against Maoist Insurgents

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.

Witnesses say police fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse Maoist sympathizers attempting to block the advance of government forces.

Thirteen 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.

Ideological cousins

Although 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 industrialization.

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."

Another politburo member Brinda Karat also told reporters here that the rebels do not represent any legitimate cause but rather are "gangs intent on violence."

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.  

Across 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 growing stronger.

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