June 20, 2009

Troops enter Maoist stronghold

LALGARH, 20th JUNE: Indian troops entered a Maoist stronghold in West Bengal state on Saturday as they tried to end a rebellion by the left-wing activists who have taken control of hundreds of villages.

Security personnel met little resistance as they moved into the town of Lalgarh, 130 kilometres (80 miles) from Kolkata, Manoj Verma, police superintendent of West Midnapur district, told mediapersons."Our forces have reached Lalgarh police station. It was a smooth march to Lalgarh through the forests," Verma said.

West Bengal home secretary Ardhendu Sen said troops had gained a foothold in Lalgarh but clearing the whole area under rebel control -- comprising more than 1,000 square kilometres (386 square miles) -- would take time.

The advance on Lalgarh was slow as the security forces had been fired on overnight, Praveen Kumar, a senior West Bengal police officer, said."Our men had to progress through a heavily mined forest," he said. "Bridges and culverts bombed by Maoists rebels left the roads impassable for four-wheeled vehicles."

About 1,800 state and federal troops have been deployed to quell the uprising that began one week ago when Maoists and tribal villagers went on the rampage against the state's ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).Police say 10 CPI(M) activists had been killed by Thursday and that security camps and party offices have also been burnt down.

Authorities have airdropped pamphlets appealing for villagers to cooperate with the security forces.The Maoist insurgency, which grew out of a peasant uprising in 1967, has hit 15 of India's 29 states. The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of neglected tribespeople and landless farmers.

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