July 23, 2008 2:13:44 am
Even as focus shifted to Orissa with the Maoist military wing People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) carrying out two major attacks in Malkangiri recently, the Naxalites in Chhattisgarh are terrorising the state in less dramatic but lethal attacks. They have mostly stepped up attacks against Salwa Judum leaders — a controversial anti-Naxalite campaign launched by the locals in June 2005 as well as elected representatives of panchayat bodies in Bastar district.
Though no major attack has taken place during the last three months, at least 18 people associated with Salwa Judum were killed during this period in separate incidents in Maoist-infested Dantewada and Bijapur districts in tribal Bastar. The rebels have also killed a dozen security personnel and looted their weapons while attacking them at weekly markets in these remote areas. Maoist posters have also surfaced in a few villages of Bijapur threatening to eliminate activists of Salwa Judum.
These security personnel have been in increasing peril since they were deployed in local haats. They have become soft targets for rebels who, in the guise of civilians, attack them.
“The new strategy of the rebels is to split into smaller groups and target panchayat members, mainly those directly associated with Salwa Judum. And it’s a Herculean task for the police to provide separate security cover to all of them,” a senior official involved in anti-Naxalite operations said.
Police sources said the Communist Party of India (Maoist) had very recently formed new Divisional Committees in Bastar and Darba as well as a number of other Area Committees in order to spread their activities in the region.
“Salwa Judum leaders and other civilians have been targets of Maoists ever since the movement began in Bastar. But these killings are not getting highlighted, as no major incidents are taking place because of the pressure mounted by the security forces,” said state Director General of Police Vishwaranjan.
“Because of more confidence, these people move around in weekly markets without informing the police and fall prey to Naxalite attacks,” he told The Indian Express.
However, Vishwaranjan said steps have been taken to intensify patrolling by the security forces in sensitive areas.
Meanwhile, it is also believed that the Maoists stepped up attacks against Salwa Judum leaders after political parties including the BJP and a section of the Opposition Congress developed “cold feet” towards the anti-Naxalite campaign as Assembly elections are just four months away.
“Except for political posturing, neither the senior leaders of the BJP nor the Congress who were in the forefront are now active,” a Salwa Judum leader of Bijapur said on condition of anonymity.
Ever since Salwa Judum, which in local Gondi dialect means ‘peace campaign’, began, more than 1,200 people were killed in Naxalite violence in Bastar region.
As the campaign aimed at isolating the rebels in the villages spread, the Maoists retaliated by unleashing violence, forcing more than 56,000 people to desert their native villages and take shelter in 23 state Government-run relief camps.
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