Indian Maoists blamed for the deaths of sixteen villagers

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Map of India showing Bihar, the state where the killing occurred

Maoists attempting to seize land in one of India's poorest communities are being blamed for the execution-style killings of at least sixteen villagers, including children, in the eastern part of the country.

Authorities in the state of Bihar say heavily-armed rebels fired on a makeshift camp at midnight, pulled sleeping villagers out of huts, tied their hands and feet and then executed them. Police say most of those killed were teenagers but five children are also among the dead.

Paro Sinh, a witness to the attacks, described his experiences to the BBC; "We were [sic] seventeen of us. When they fired at us, I wasn't hit, but I fell down on the ground and pretended to be dead. They shot dead all the others, including my son".

Media reports say the area has been the site of an inter-caste feud and that the victims were trying to protect six-and-a-half hectares of cultivated land the rebels are trying to seize.

Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, said additional forces have been sent into the area, about 200 kilometers north of the state capital, Patna, to catch the suspects.

The state's chief minister said violence has no place in society and compensation of approximately US$ 3,000 will be given to the families of each victim.

A private television station said one of its reporters received a mobile phone text message from a Maoist leader, identified as Dabloo, threatening to kill Kumar if two top rebel leaders are not released from jail. Police are taking the threat seriously and have tightened security for the chief minister, a state official said.

One person has already been arrested in connection with the incident. State's director general of police Anand Shankar said, "we have arrested one farmer and are interrogating him to nab the others involved. We will track [down] all of the perpetrators of this heinous crime. The incident has triggered panic among residents of Bihar," he told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The Maoists rebels, known as Naxalites, have been waging a violent campaign in several Indian states for decades, demanding land reform and more rural jobs for the poor.

A massacre of underclass villagers, however, is unusual. The rebels typically target government officials, police and others accused of helping wealthy landlords exploit the poor.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently called the Maoist insurgency the single biggest domestic security threat facing the country.

The country's air chief marshall, Pradeep Vasant Naik, told reporters on Thursday that the Air Force is seeking permission from the Defense Ministry to return fire when its aircraft are targeted by the Maoists. Several Air Force helicopters have been shot at by the rebels during the past year.

India's military is not directly involved in the counter-insurgency but is providing logistical, surveillance and intelligence support to para-military and police forces fighting the Maoists.