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    India's West Bengal State Agrees to Ban Maoists

    In India, the West Bengal state government has banned the Maoist rebels, whose movement has been declared a terrorist organization.  The West Bengal government came under pressure to ban the Maoists after security forces had to be deployed to evict the rebels from a rural district.            

    The Chief Minister of West Bengal state, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee says his government will implement a ban ordered a day earlier by the federal government on the Maoist faction of the Communist Party of India.

    Since last week, hundreds of paramilitary troops and police have mounted an operation in the state to reclaim a district where the rebels are entrenched.   

    Rebel influence widening

    The operation has focused attention on the widening influence of the rebels in the state and prompted the federal government to urge the West Bengal government to ban the Maoists.

    Chief Minister Bhattacharjee says the strength of police forces in the state will be increased and their training updated to help enforce the ban.

    "How far we will go, whom to arrest, how to arrest that is our business, that we will decide," he said. "But this act [law] is applicable in the whole country, it should be very clear."

    The West Bengal government banned the Maoists despite strong opposition from senior leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which governs the state.  They say the ban will serve no purpose and the widening influence of the rebels should be countered with political measures. 

    Chief Minister Bhattacharjee says the West Bengal state government is also looking at development measures that can help to weaken the hold of the rebels in areas where they are active.   

    "And we have taken some crash programs to improve the quality of life of those people living in that area," he said. "These combined together will take a holistic attitude, socio-economic development, political activities, political campaign, and finally strong administrative measures, we should include all this to face this situation."

    West Bengal is one of the five eastern states where the Maoist rebels - numbering about 20,000 - have entrenched themselves in outlying, jungle areas.  They claim to be fighting for the rights of landless poor, saying the peasants are exploited by government and police officials.      

    The rebels are being blamed for sporadic attacks in states where they have called a two-day protest.  Police say they attacked a court and blew up a cultural center in Bihar, and torched the offices of the Communist Party in a district in West Bengal.

    India's federal government has been repeatedly urging state governments to do more to stamp out the Maoist insurgency, calling it the biggest internal security threat to the country.  But several security experts blame state governments for not taking that warning seriously. 

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