Maoist rebels derail train after threat of crackdown

Explosion on Indian railway track leaves two dead and dozens injured
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The Independent Online

Maoist rebels in India have blown up a railway track, leading to the derailment of a crowded passenger train, killing two people and injuring dozens.

The train was travelling at night from the eastern state of Chhattisgarh to Jharkhand when rebels blew up the track between two stations. Eight of the train's 10 carriages were derailed and the train was left lying on its side. Injured and panicked passengers cried for help.

"We heard a loud explosion and two bogies [carriages] attached to the engine were tossed in the air while six other coaches got derailed," the guard of the train, KD Rao, told the Press Trust of India. "Soon after the blast, it was pitch dark amid wails and shouts. The passengers jumped out from bogies and started helping each other before the official help came several hours later."

Maoist rebels who have vowed to overthrow the Indian state often target train tracks in the so-called "red corridor" of eastern India which marks the heartland of the insurgents. Just last month, Maoist-backed activists hijacked an express train in the eastern state of West Bengal to demand the release of a tribal leader. Police say they often find explosives on the tracks.

But this is the first time that the rebels have managed to derail a train, providing them with an important propaganda victory as the government prepares to order troops to lay siege to the Maoist stronghold.

The Maoist or Naxalite movement in India began in the 1960s as a peasant uprising and today it has spread to 20 of the country's 29 states. Maoist-related violence leads to the deaths of around 700 people every year and up to 100,000 people have been displaced from their homes. But many believe the Indian government should be doing more to address the root causes of the insurgency rather than sending in troops.

The writer and activist, Arundhati Roy, recently told a television interviewer: "If I was a person who is being dispossessed ... I would say that I am justified in taking up arms if that is the only way I have to defend myself."

Calling for unconditional talks with the rebels, she added: "We should stop thinking about who is justified. You have an army of very poor people being faced down by an army of rich that are corporate-backed."

The government does not agree. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has claimed that the rebels represent the greatest threat to the country's internal security and a massive security operation is tipped to begin in Chhattisgarh within weeks.

The European Commission has warned that the expected offensive could severely jeopardise humanitarian operations. Its aid department, which has been funding relief assistance for thousands of villagers caught up in the violence since 2007, said it was concerned that its work would be at risk if fighting intensified.

"It can become too dangerous because of on-going fighting for our partners to access and reach out to the villages," said Maria Joao Ralha. "It can also limit access as parties involved in the conflict may become too nervous. They may not want humanitarians working there; so villagers would not be able to receive the healthcare that our partners can provide."