India police say 12 Maoist rebels killed
Twelve Maoist rebels have been killed in a gun battle with police in a forest in an eastern Indian state known as a rebel stronghold, officers said Tuesday.
They said firing erupted when police tried to intercept a group of suspected guerrillas whom they thought were heading to a village to extort money in Jharkhand state late Monday.
“They started firing when we tried to stop them,” said Hemant Toppo, deputy inspector-general of police in Palamu district where the incident occurred.
“We retaliated and 12 Naxals were killed in the exchange that lasted for almost an hour,” he told AFP, using a local term for the Maoist rebels.
Toppo said police have recovered the rebels’ bodies along with guns and ammunition from the forest, which is 193 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of the state capital Ranchi.
“Some rebels also managed to escape into the nearby forest areas and our teams are now looking for them,” he said.
India’s long- running
Maoist insurgency began in the 1960s, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, and has cost thousands of lives.
The rebels, described by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as India’s most serious internal security threat, say they are fighting authorities for land, jobs and other rights for poor tribal groups.
They are believed to be present in at least 20 Indian states but are most active in forested, resourcerich areas in the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.
Police said Monday’s attack was their biggest clash with the rebels in the state in more than a year, after Maoists ambushed a police vehicle there in April 2014 and killed six officers.
“Our forces across the state have been put on high alert over the possibility of a retaliatory attack by the rebels,” A. Natarajan, police inspector-general of Palamu, told AFP.
Critics believe attempts to end the revolt through tough security offensives are doomed to fail, saying the real solution is better governance and development of the impoverished region.
Human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover called for an investigation into the attack, saying India’s police had a history of killing suspected rebels in “cold blood.”
“It is important to investigate (such cases) in a transparent manner to ensure that there is confidence in the actions of the state,” Grover told AFP in Delhi.
Indian police have long been criticized for so-called encounter killings, in which they shoot suspected criminals to sidestep court procedures and then claim the victim fired first.
In April police in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh launched an investigation into officers who gunned down 20 sandalwood smugglers.
Officers claimed they were acting in self-defense after they came under attack. But families of the victims launched protests, saying they were innocent.
In this photograph taken early Tuesday, June 9, Indian police officials look at a damaged vehicle after an encounter with alleged Maoist rebels at Palamu, some 120 kilometers northwest of Ranchi.