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Chhattisgarh arms tribals to fight Maoists

Mustafa Qureshi in Raipur | July 21, 2005 11:24 IST

Chhattisgarh state government said on Wednesday it will begin supplying arms to tribesmen, who have formed vigilante groups to protect themselves from attacks by Maoist rebels.

Communist militants, who have fought government forces for years, are facing unexpected opposition from the same bow-and-arrow wielding tribesmen they claim to represent.

Angered by harassment and killings allegedly by rebels of the Communist Party of India- Maoists, the tribesmen have organised their own defence, R K Pisda, a local administrator, said.

"The rebels thought intimidation would work and the people will be frightened," said Pisda, who organised a relief camp for tribesmen whose homes had been burned down by the rebels. "But it made them unite and be more determined in their fight."

They now have the support of the state police force.

"The state government has decided to provide weapons to people fighting against the communist rebels," said Director General of Police O. P. Rathore on Wednesday.

Maoist rebels are active in six Indian states. They attack police, landlords and politicians in what they claim is a fight for the rights of the poor.

In Chhattisgarh state, it started when one man stood his ground against the rebels.

Chiryam Muria, from Bandepar village in Dantewada district, 445 kilometers south of Raipur, refused to agree to a rebel demand to provide one child to the insurgency.

Muria, a father of three, tried to mobilise villagers to stand up to the rebels. The communist insurgents responded by burning his house. That made Muria a symbol of people's resistance against the rebels, Pisda said.

A rebel move to ban the collection and sale of Tendu tree leaves-- used to make beedi, and a main source of income for tribespeople-- also ignited unrest, he said.

Facing a revolt, the rebels resorted to fear tactics attacking villages and burning houses, Rathore said.

Then in July, as tribesmen gathered to discuss the issue, a land mine blast rocked a nearby forest.

Police said the mine accidentally exploded while a rebel was planting it, killing him instantly.

Tribesmen armed with bows and arrows now accompany armed policemen and paramilitary soldiers as they sweep through the area. They killed two rebels in Dantewada district less than a month ago, Rathore said.

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Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

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