India Appeals for Maoist Insurgents, Sympathizers to Engage in Dialogue

India's government is urging entrenched insurgents to lay down their weapons as troops advance towards them in West Bengal. The appeal comes after the federal government mobilized paramilitaries in the so-called "red corridor" in the eastern part of the country.

Operations by special paramilitary forces continue in the state of West Bengal. That is where Maoist insurgents vow not to be dislodged from territory they claim to have liberated from government control.

Border security and police forces, with a new elite anti-insurgent squad in reserve, are cautiously removing landmines as they advance into the Maoist stronghold at Lalgarh, 170 kilometers from the state capital, Kolkata.

Officials say the troops are trying to avoid civilian casualties.

The insurgents claim they have the support of 2,000 villagers who will confront troops with axes, bows and arrows.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram tells reporters the Maoists should hold talks with the government instead of fighting.

The home minister also chastised the media, saying it is "totally inappropriate" to use the word 'war' to refer to the operation, which began Thursday. 

"Don't call it war. The government doesn't go to war against its own people. These are Indians. There is a militant organization called CPM Maoist. They may have grievances, but in a democracy there is a way to resolve those grievances," he said.

The home minister added that taking up arms and claiming to liberate zones of a state is "not the way to function in a democratic republic." He said West Bengal, which has been governed by Communists for 32 years, should ban the Maoist organization.

The Maoists are most active in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkand, Orissa and West Bengal.

It is believed there are about 20,000 rebels nationwide dedicated to Maoist ideology. But the home minister says authorities are not sure how many armed insurgents the paramilitary force is about to encounter at Lalgarh.

"How can I give a number out? They have entrenched themselves over a period of six months. I cannot give a number," he said.

The Maoists say they are fighting a Communist state government which is backed by corrupt police and local officials, intent on displacing farmers and tribal members to make way for industrial projects.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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