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Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa Maoist Crackdown on Government Radar

Calcutta: Union home minister P. Chidambaram today indicated that inter-state security operations against Maoists would be launched in Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa soon.

"We reviewed the progress of the intra-state and inter-state operations and found that there has been significant work (done) in this regard. We also discussed inter-state operations between Bengal and Jharkhand and Bengal and Orissa. We have taken certain decisions about these joint operations that will be implemented after I return to Delhi," Chidambaram said after an 80-minute meeting with chief ministers, deputy chief ministers and senior officials of Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar at Writers' Buildings.

He also clarified that the Maoists would have to stop killing if the Centre is to halt the security operations and sit for talks. "Halt violence. That is the precondition," Chidambaram said.

"Over the past few months, key Naxal leaders were arrested and more forces were deployed. They (Naxals) are our own people and we care for them. Our objective is not to kill them but to re-establish civil administration. But we would be obliged to continue our operation if they do not halt violence."

Bengal has not had any joint security operation with any state, though the state government had asked for it during earlier talks with the Centre. There is such an operation in progress involving Chhattisgarh and Orissa.

Sources said Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had spoken of the need for a joint operation in Jharkhand but the neighbouring state had complained of "lack of infrastructure".

"We have to concentrate on our borders with Chhattisgarh and south Bihar to tackle the insurgency. We know east Singhbhum is a problem area for both our state and Bengal but we lack adequate infrastructure," a Jharkhand government representative was quoted as saying at the meeting.

The Bengal government has asked for a helicopter and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from the Centre for tracking the Maoists in the jungles, it was learnt.

"The UAV, used by the army, is about eight-foot-long and helps take aerial pictures of camps and shelters in the jungles. In Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, the Centre had sent helicopters for their anti-Maoist operations. That's why we also asked for these. There will be a second phase of the operation but when and how it will be launched hasn't been decided," said a Bengal home department official.

As for the progress in operations, the home minister, flanked by Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his Orissa counterpart Naveen Patnaik in the rotunda of the Writers', said: "We are confident of further progress in the next six months. It will be a slow but steady process. The measures will be careful, controlled and calibrated." The progress of the operation would not be like "a cricket match" with the "scoreboard showing how many runs have been scored", Chidambaram said.

When pointed out that the Bihar chief minister had said earlier in the day that application of force would not be the solution, Chidambaram said: "Use of force alone can't solve the problem. We are agreed on that. Our troops do not fire unless fired upon."

Chidambaram asserted that development work would begin after reclaiming the areas under Maoist dominance. "We will reclaim the areas now dominated by the Naxals. Once the civil administration is established, the chief ministers have assured me that they will rush in with development programmes such as schools, roads, medical and drinking water facilities as well as job opportunities," said Chidambaram.

The Telegraph, 10th February 2010