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Exclusive! Ex-major generals may be sent to Naxal-hit states

By RS Chauhan
January 31, 2011 13:20 IST
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Once appointed, these officers will coordinate and advise states in their anti-naxal strategy in aspects ranging from training to operations, reports RS Chauhan 

The Army has sent a panel of 12 retired major generals to the home ministry for selection as military advisers to Naxal-affected states.

The home ministry and the Naxal-hit states are expected to take a decision in this regard next week, highly placed sources said.

These officers have been selected carefully keeping in view their long experience in counter-insurgency operations, the sources added. Once appointed, these officers will coordinate and advise states in their anti-naxal strategy in aspects ranging from training to operations.

Recommending these names is just one part of an overall plan that the army has devised to help the MHA and the naxal-affected states in dealing with the rising Maoist insurgency without directly getting involved in countering the armed naxal cadres.

Sources have told that the army's recent decision to use a part of the unexplored Abujmarh forests in Chhatisgarh as a major training ground for its own infantry troops is aimed to creating a 'deterrent' presence of the army in the area so far controlled by the Maoists.

From March, at least two brigades (over 6,000 troops) from the Army's central command will start carrying out their basic infantry training in a 2,000-hectare forest area bang in the middle of the Abujmarh forest. While the Army's mandate is to strictly confine itself to training and not carry out any operation against the Maoists, security experts believe that the mere presence of the Army in such large numbers (at least 3,000 troops at one time) will automatically force the Maoists to change their tactics. The Maoists may go out of the area rather than confront the army directly, these experts believe.

According to reports, the Chattisgarh government and the army have agreed not to construct any permanent structure in the Abujmarh forests and also make sure that the civil population in the area is not affected or harassed.

Army sources point out from past experience that prolonged army presence in an unexplored area helps boost local economy and creates small clusters of human habitation, since the army offers protection and also sources its day-to-day supplies from the surrounding areas.

There is, however, one aspect that is yet to be settled between the Chattisgarh government and the army. The rules of engagement for the troops are not yet clear. Although the army has made it clear that its troops will fire back if attacked, it is not clear what legal protection will be available to the Armymen in the event court cases and allegations of human rights abuses start surfacing against the army.

Normally, the army operates under the protection of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, which gives its troops the necessary legal cover. But the act is not applicable in Chattisgarh so far. The Army has decided to risk the consequences to begin with, but has told both the home ministry and the state government to make sure a mechanism is evolved to protect the troops from undue legal harassment from human rights groups in case the soldiers fire back in self-defence and cause death or injury to anyone caught in the crossfire.

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RS Chauhan in New Delhi