May 29, 2006

Indian panel calls for end to anti-Maoist campaign

By Palash Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A group of prominent Indians called
on Monday for national talks between Maoist rebels and the
government, while also demanding an end to a controversial
anti-rebel campaign in the worst-affected state of

Indian Maoists claim to fight for the rights of poor
peasants and landless laborers. They control huge swathes of
rural India along its eastern flank.

Thousands have been killed in the three-decade-old movement
and as per latest official figures, more than 1,200 people have
been killed in over 2,000 incidents of Maoist violence since
2005 and up to April this year. Nearly 750 of them were

The densely-forested central state of Chhattisgarh is among
the worst-affected and in particular, Dantewada district, which
is regarded a Maoist hub.

An independent "Citizen's Initiative" of writers,
journalists and former officials, which visited Dantewada
earlier this month, called for a "national dialogue" with the
rebels and a ceasefire in Chhattisgarh.

They also called for an immediate end to "Salwa Judum"
(Campaign for Peace) -- a government-backed anti-rebel movement
in Chhattisgarh, saying it had failed to halt the Maoists.

"Over the past two decades, Maoist revolutionaries have
been making steady inroads in the tribal districts of
Chhattisgarh," the report said. "Parts of the districts have
largely passed out of the control of the state administration."

The report said among the reasons for the fast spread of
the rebellion has been a government failure to provide schools,
hospitals and roads in these remote areas.

"At the same time, the tribals have had their access to
natural resources curbed. Forest, mining, water and energy
management policies have consistently discriminated against
them," it added.


Lashing out at the "Salwa Judum" campaign, the report said:
.".. the Chhattisgarh administration appears to have
'outsourced' law and order to an unaccountable, undisciplined
and amorphous group which calls itself Salwa Judum."

"The leadership of this group has passed into the hands of
criminal elements ... Instead of bringing in peace and
security, Salwa Judum has increased insecurity all around," it

"The Salwa Judum must be stopped immediately, its members
disarmed, and control reasserted by the state administration."

In the past, Amnesty International and the Asian Center for
Human Rights have expressed similar concerns about

The state government describes Salwa Judum as a
"spontaneous, self-initiated, peace mission," the panel's
report said.

The panel said they were physically attacked thrice by
members of the Salwa Judum during their fact-finding mission.

It said minors were being recruited as Special Police
Officers and armed with "lathis" (bamboo sticks) and guns to
fight the Maoists.

"A cycle of retribution and revenge has been set in motion,
with the Salwa Judum targeting villagers believed to be
sympathetic to the Maoists and the Maoists in turn killing
those deemed to be sympathetic to Salwa Judum," the panel
report said.

(Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty)