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Indian Police Arrest Top Maoist Leader in West Bengal

Indian police say they have arrested a top Maoist rebel leader in West Bengal - an eastern state where the rebels recently staged one of their most daring attacks. Venkateswar Reddy is the latest of several key Maoist leaders taken into custody in recent months.

Police say a special team arrested 45-year-old Reddy, also known as Telugu Deepak, in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal state, late Tuesday.

They describe him as a key associate of top Maoist leader, Koteswara Rao.

Police say the arrested Maoist leader is suspected of having planned last month's deadly assault on a security camp, in which scores of rebels besieged the camp, shot soldiers dead and set it on fire after laying land mines. Twenty-four soldiers were killed in the attack, described as the deadliest in the state.

A top official in West Bengal, Raj Kanojia, says Reddy masterminded many other attacks in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh state, in the last decade.

"He is a mechanical engineer. He has been involved in a number of Maoist incidents including killings, land mine blasts and looting of weapons," he said.

At least five other top Maoist leaders have been taken into custody since Indian security forces launched a special operation to quell the rebellion in several eastern states where the guerrillas are most active.

Officials hope that targeting top leaders will make it easier to flush the guerrillas from their hideouts.

The rebels have responded to the crackdown by mounting several attacks on security forces. They have also rebuffed the government's efforts to draw them into peace talks, saying they will only join talks if their arrested leaders are released and if the government halts the anti-Maoist offensive.

Intelligence officials believe the Maoists have about 20 to 30 top leaders and some 12,000 cadres. The rebels have hideouts in remote areas inhabited by tribal people along an eastern belt which is less developed compared to other parts of the country.

The Maoists are seen as the greatest internal security challenge in a country which is battling several other insurgencies.