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Indian Troops Report Progress in Offensive Against Insurgents

Indian security forces have regained control over large parts of an area which had been seized by Maoist rebels, in the eastern state, West Bengal. Maoist rebels are active in a forested stretch in eastern India.

Security forces say they have consolidated their hold on several villages in West Bengal, which Maoist rebels claimed they had taken from government control. Officials say they have met with little resistance from the rebels.

The security operation to reestablish government control in Lalgarh district began nearly two weeks ago, after a spate of attacks in which suspected rebels gunned down political rivals and torched government facilities.

Thousands of paramilitaries, along with police and an elite anti-insurgent squad have been advancing slowly because of fears that the rebels would use villagers as human shields to block the progress of government forces. The government says it wants to avoid civilian casualties.

Siddhinath Gupta, who heads the security operation, said Monday troops have been helped, not hindered, by the local population.

"The kind of cooperation which has been extended by the local people here, we hope this kind of cooperation with remain, and we hope we will be in a position to reestablish the rule of law in the entire area," he said.

Gupta says Maoist leaders may have fled the area. He says troops will continue the operation to regain the rest of the area from the rebels.

In the past year, the rebels entrenched themselves in Lalgarh area, which is a forested area lying about 170 kilometers from the state capital, Kolkata.

Political analysts say the Maoist rebels expanded their influence in West Bengal state following a wave of disenchantment against the local government, which had taken away land from farmers for industrial projects.

Maoist rebels are active in a large belt stretching across several states in eastern India. They have mounted many attacks on security forces in this area, detonating land mines and exploding bombs. They say they are fighting for the rights of landless peasants and tribal communities who they say are exploited by the government.

Last week, the federal government declared the movement led by the Maoist rebels to be a terrorist organization.