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Indian security personnel carry the body of one of the victims of the Maoist attack in a densely forested area in Bastar.
Indian security personnel carry the body of one of the victims of the Maoist attack in a densely forested area in Bastar.
Image: AP Photo

27 killed as guerrillas ambush convoy of Indian political leaders

At least 27 people, including three leaders of the Indian ruling Congress party, have been killed in an attack by Maoist rebels in central India.
May 26th 2013, 1:25 PM 5,024 6

A HEAVILY-ARMED gang of nearly 300 Maoist rebels killed at least 27 people in an attack on a convoy carrying local Congress party leaders and supporters in central India, police said Sunday.

The land mine and gun attack on Saturday was the deadliest in three years and the latest in a long-simmering conflict that pits the insurgents against authorities in the forests of mainly central and eastern India.

‘An attack on democratic values’

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who rushed to the Chhattisgarh state capital Raipur along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the ambush, condemned what she called a “cowardly act” by the Maoists.

“It is not an attack on Congress or its leaders, but an attack on democratic values,” she told Congress party workers after visiting the injured, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

State Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh, and former state home minister Mahendra Karma — who had set up a controversial anti-Maoist group in 2005 — were among those killed in the assault in a remote tribal belt of the state.

“The total number of dead now stands at 23. We can also confirm that 32 people are injured, most of them seriously,” state police director-general Ramniwas, who goes by one name, told AFP.

Former federal minister Vidya Charan Shukla was badly injured and had been airlifted to New Delhi in “serious” condition, said Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who flew to Raipur late Saturday.

The 84-year-old Shukla, a veteran Congress parliamentarian, was being treated by a team of doctors at a private hospital on the outskirts of the capital.

Multi-pronged attack

The rebels triggered a land mine before opening fire at the convoy of Congress party workers and leaders who were leaving the area after a political rally, police said.

At least five policemen also lost their lives in the attack in the Jagdalpur area of Bastar district, 375 kilometres (233 miles) south of Raipur.

“When our cars reached a turning point, the Naxals started firing,” an injured Congress worker told NDTV, referring to the rebels also known as Naxalites.

“Two cars were blown up and the firing continued for almost one and a half hours. Many people were killed and many sustained bullet injuries. Some of us lay on the road to save ourselves.”

Singh, who has described the Maoists as the country’s most serious internal security threat, said the ambush should spur the battle against extremists.

“Those who have lost their lives in this barbaric attack are martyrs of democracy,” he said after visiting the wounded in hospital Sunday.

“We have to be more determined in fighting Naxal extremism. These lives should not go in vain.”

Demands for a communist society

Maoist rebels have been fighting since 1967.

They demand land and jobs for the poor, and want to establish a communist society by overthrowing what they call India’s “semi-colonial, semi-feudal” form of rule.

The revolt is believed to have cost tens of thousands of lives.

In April 2010 a rebel assault killed 76 policemen in the state, where the Congress party is the main opposition.

Three policemen were killed a fortnight ago when Maoists launched an overnight attack on a state-run broadcaster in Chhattisgarh.

And last week a policeman and eight villagers were killed in a shootout between rebels and security forces.

Eleven policemen were killed in March last year in a landmine blast in the western state of Maharashtra near the border with Chhattisgarh.

In 2009 government forces launched a huge anti-Maoist offensive known as “Operation Green Hunt”, but the often poorly-trained police have had to contend with a deadly series of attacks.

Critics believe attempts to end the revolt through security offensives are doomed to fail, saying the real solution is better governance and development.

Narendra Modi, senior leader of the main national opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, slammed the attack and called for unity against “naxalism”.

“The need of the hour is to stand together as a nation and vow to fight this menace that threatens our democracy,” he said on Twitter.

But Congress has called for a general strike in Chhattisgarh on Monday to press for the dismissal of the BJP state government for failing to prevent the attack.

- © AFP, 2013

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