Maoist Rebels In India Kill 75 Paramilitary Police

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A senior police official in India says rebels have killed at least 75 paramilitary forces in attacks in the eastern part of the country. That's the most casualties against government forces since they launched an offensive against the rebels last year.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. This next report offers a very different look at one of the world's rising powers. For all of its potential on the world stage, India faces many internal divisions. And in a remote part of central India, leftist rebels killed at least 70 policemen. We're joined from India's capital, New Delhi, by our correspondent, Philip Reeves.

Phil, how did this happen?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, this was an attack, Steve, on paramilitary police from India's central reserve police forces. It happened in what's known as India's Red Belt. That's a sweep of central and eastern India, where Maoist rebels have been active for years and where the government has little or no control.

Now, this particular area is in the state of Chhattisgarh. It's in a remote and hilly forest, a rebel stronghold. Details are still coming in, but it appears that hundreds of Maoists ambushed a police patrol. They set off a landmine and opened fire. And then when reinforcements arrived they attacked them too.

India's home minister, P. Chidambaram, says that something seems to have gone very wrong today and that the police seem to have, in his word, walked into a trap.

INSKEEP: Phil, Maoist is such a retro term. I think it's fair to say many people don't even know - younger people know what a Maoist rebel is. What are they fighting for?

REEVES: Well, this is a movement of communist revolutionaries. They are inspired by China's Mao�Tse�Dong. And they claim to be fighting for the rights of the poor. They're secular. They include women. The people they're fighting for, they say, have been left out.

There are a multitude of Indians who've been left out of India's economic boom, and that includes India's tribal people, who live in these forests where the Maoists are active. And they've been losing their lands and livelihoods in many cases to big industry. And as the economy grows and modernizes, they've been pushed out of their area. So they claim to be representing them.

Now, this insurgency's been simmering away for decades. But it's really surged in the last couple of years. And the Maoists are now active in the majority of India's states. And just in the last few months they've attacked and kidnapped and killed officials. They've blown up government infrastructure, including schools, railway lines. They've attacked prisons.

And less than two months ago they killed two dozen paramilitary police when they overran their camp in West Bengal. But today's attack is among the Maoist's bloodiest attack in the history of the insurgency.

INSKEEP: So long term social factors are behind this movement in some way. But why would they have carried this very bloody attack at this time?

REEVES: Well, in the last few months the central and state governments have together been carrying out an offensive to try to crush the Maoists in very various parts of the country. We haven't been able to find out that much about what's been happening. There's a kind of hidden war.

But locals have complained of the government atrocities. This attack may be some kind of retaliation that should be seen in the context of that government operation.

INSKEEP: And how do people across India respond to attacks like this?

REEVES: Well, today's events have really dominated the headlines here. There's a certain degree of puzzlement. This is a country with a very large and well equipped army, and yet it's been unable to deal with these leftist insurgents. Commentators on the telly as I speak, they've been demanding to know what went wrong and how Indian forces allowed themselves to be exposed to an attack of this kind. And we can be fairly sure, I think, that there'll be a lot of pressure now on India's central government to take effective action against this Maoist insurgency.

INSKEEP: Okay. Phil, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves reporting today from New Delhi, India on an attack by Maoist rebels in central India that killed around 50 paramilitary policemen.

We should mention that Phil is one of the NPR correspondents and producers preparing a journey across South Asia later this spring. We expect to travel much of the grand trunk road, which crosses India and Pakistan, exploring rebellion, religion and the next generation of ancient lands.

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