Civilians at risk as India plans assault against Maoist rebels-HRW

By Nita Bhalla NEW DELHI (AlertNet) – Thousands of civilians are at risk of being killed, wounded or abducted as India’s security forces prepare a major offensive against Maoist fighters in country’s heartlands, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday. The Maoist insurgency, waged mostly from the forests of central and eastern India, has intensified dramatically since early 2005 leaving tens of thousands of villagers uprooted and hundreds killed, tortured or persecuted by both sides. The government has said the insurgency — which has spread to 20 of India’s 29 states — is the biggest threat to the country’s internal security and authorities have signalled that an assault against Maoists was beginning in various parts of the country. But Meenakshi Ganguly, senior researcher for the New York-based rights group said civilians were at risk from the offensive codenamed “Operation Green Hunt”. “Government and Maoist claims to be acting on behalf of India’s poorest people can be undermined by the atrocities by both sides against these very same people,” Ganguly said. “Local people are at risk of being caught in the middle of the fighting killed, wounded, abducted, forced to take sides, and then risk retribution.” THOUSANDS OF DISPLACED Aid workers say over the last three years around 100,000 people have been forced from their homes into government-run camps for the displaced in the central state of Chhattisgarh, the worst affected region. Rights activists say the local population living in the mineral-rich state have been persecuted by both the security forces and the Maoists, who want to build a Communist state. Villagers accuse the rebels, also known as Naxalites, of forced recruitment, including the recruitment of children, and widespread extortion. The insurgents have attacked schools and police stations, and use landmines and improvised explosive devices. They have also hijacked a passenger train, beheaded policemen and suspected informers, and attacked employees of mining companies. But rights groups also say there is also “widespread abuses” by government-backed vigilantes and security forces, who in previous anti-Maoist drives, have conducted arbitrary arrests, torture and killings. “While senior officials have been saying the right thing, the real test is what happens on the ground,” said Ganguly. “The government needs to send a strong message to Operation Green Hunt forces that human rights violations will not be tolerated and prosecute those responsible for past abuses.”


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