Operation Lalgarh: Maoists ready for talks, 20 rebels detained (Roundup)June 23rd, 2009 - 11:21 pm ICT by IANS
Lalgarh (West Bengal), June 23 (IANS) The West Bengal government Tuesday took into custody 20 Maoist extremists, including some top ranking leaders, as the cornered left radicals said they were willing to talk if a ceasefire was declared in Lalgarh where security forces have launched a massive operation to flush out the rebels.
Security forces continued to sanitise Lalgarh, in West Midnapore district, after taking over the area that the Maoists had declared a “liberated” zone.
A day after the centre banned the Communist Party of India-Maoist, its spokesman Gour Chakraborty was detained Tuesday evening and taken for interrogation by the special branch of city police.
“As of now, he has been detained for questioning. Whether he will be arrested or released will be decided based on the interrogation,” Deputy Commissioner (detective department) of city police Javed Shamim told IANS.
In Kolkata, state Chief Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty said 20 Maoist rebels, including five of their front ranking leaders, have been taken into custody. The security forces of the centre and the state have been asked to observe restraint.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the security forces have progressed a lot without bloodshed, but the main target is to solve the problem politically.
The chief minister advocated a mix of tough administrative action, development initiatives and political steps to tackle the Maoists and restore normalcy in Lalgarh. He conceded that the area faced irrigation problems. “It is the government’s duty to look into facilities like health, education and roads. We have formed a task force for this sometime back,” he said.
Before he was detained, Gour Chakraborty had told the media that the Maoists were willing to talk to the central and state government, but only in the presence of the “intelligentsia”.
“If the operations are stopped and a ceasefire declared, then we are willing to talk to the central and state governments. But the intelligentsia will have to take the initiative. And of course, representatives of the intelligentsia have to be present during the talks,” Chakraborty said earlier.
Chakraborty said the intellectuals the Maoists were referring to were those under the banner of ‘Swajan’, who had visited Lalgarh, just about 200 km west of state capital Kolkata, Sunday.
This group of anti-Left Front intellectuals, including filmmaker Aparna Sen and theatre personalities Kaushik Sen and Shaonli Mitra, had called for a ceasefire after holding discussions with people and groups active in the former rebel-held enclave.
Security forces, comprising the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), its specialised anti-Maoist team CoBRA (Combat Battalion for Resolute Action), Border Security Force and the state armed police, are likely to be joined by 1,000 more central paratroopers by Tuesday night. The CoBRA forces were combing the jungles to flush out the Maoists, a police source said.
The forces are preparing for the next phase of action in Ramgarh, 22 km from here, where the rebels had earlier this month torched a police camp and driven out the civil and military administration. A police source said a full-scale march to Ramgarh will begin after the reinforcements arrive.
Security forces, which began their operations six days ago and have succeeded in establishing control over about half of the 42 villages under control of the Maoists and their associate tribal body People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) Lalgarh, intensified patrolling in Lalgarh Tuesday in view of the 48-hour shutdown called by the Maoists.
“Our first priority is to clear access points, see that there are no landmines or bombs planted and also to disable the Maoists from carrying out such activities in future by sanitising and keeping vigil in the area,” State Inspector General of Police (Western Range) Kuldip Singh told IANS.
Asked whether the security forces are trying to build up rapport with the villagers, Kuldip Singh said: “It doesn’t matter now. First we need to know who is a Maoist and who is not. The rapport building will come later once the place is cleared of these elements.”
The security forces’ strategy is to set up a camp at Ramgarh to keep a close watch on the Maoist zone Kantapahari, which lies between Lalgarh and Ramgarh.
“Once these base camps are strengthened, we will launch assault on the Maoists from various directions,” said Kuldip Singh.
Lalgarh has been on the boil since last November when a landmine exploded on the route of the convoy of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and then central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada.
Complaining of police atrocities after the blast, angry tribals backed by Maoists launched an agitation virtually cutting off the area from the rest of West Midnapore district.
The Left radicals torched police camps, set ablaze offices of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and drove out the civil administration to establish a virtual “free zone” in the enclave of West Midnapore district.
The Maoists have been active in three backward districts - Purulia, West Midnapore and Bankura - in the western part of the state.