India: Naxalite hand in opium trade?
Following a series of raids on the strongholds of Naxalite rebels and the slaying of top commanders, authorities say the guerillas' leaders have taken refuge in India's northeastern hinterlands, seeking to regroup and resupply—through control of opium production in their traditional strongholds. Home Ministry Joint Secretary MA Ganapathy said that Naxalites in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh are producing opium in their jungle territories. "Intelligence reports say that the Maoists have joined hands with drug cartels to cultivate opium, which is subsequently delivered to the mafia, who convert raw opium into heroin and smuggle the drug outside the country," he said. The proceeds are reportedly used to purchase weapons in the northeast that come across the border from Burma.
Local "ultra" militant groups in the northeast are said to be collaborating with the Naxal leadership, including the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur and United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). Less plausibly, authorities also claim the involvement Islamist militant networks including Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. Authorities said the bombs allegedly placed in the stomach of the corpses of two slain members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) that killed 13 more troops when they exploded in Latehar, Jharkhand, on Jan. 7 were made in Pakistan.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde also acknoweldged reports that the rebels are receiving arms from China. "We have learnt that the Maoist rebels have been endeavoring to smuggle weapons from countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar and there seems to be something like a free arms market along China's border with Myanmar," he said, using the alternate name for Burma. (Khabar South Asia, Jan. 22; IBN, Jan. 11)
Despite their supposed retreat, the Naxalites apparently remain active across large areas of eastern India. A group of armed guerillas reportedly abducted eight workers engaged in road and bridge construction work at Badaldiah village, Jamui district, Bihar state, Jan. 27. The CRPF has dispatched forces to the area to recover the abducted workers. (Times of India, Jan. 28)
Controversy surrounds the fate of an officer of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force now fighting for his life in a hospital. He was aboard an Indian Air Force Mi-17 helicopter that flew in to rescue troops injured in an encounter with Naxalites in the forests of Sukma district, Chhattisgarh, on Jan. 18. Guerillas fired at the chopper, bringing it down and hitting the officer in the abdomen. The IAF crew apparently abandoned the officer, as they rushed to the safety of a nearby CRPF camp. For hours, he was alone in the forest, sending signals for help. He was finally evacuated and brought to Raipur the next afternoon. (Indian Express, Feb. 1)
On Jan. 19, security forces killed two female Naxal fighters in an encounter in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh—a rare instance when troops have been able to recover the bodies of Naxalites, as the "ultras" usually take away the dead comrades with them. The Border Security Force (BSF) has delpoyed 5,000 personnel (five battalions) in the district to conduct anti-Naxal operations. (PTI, Jan. 19)
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) protests ongoing arbitrary detention of residents in zones of Naxalite activity, and harassment of rights defenders. AHRC particularly points to a case in Barwani, Madhya Pradesh, where a "witch hunt" is underway against Madhuri Krishnaswami of the Jagrat Dalit Adivasi Sangthan (JADS), an organization advocating for the rights of dalits ("untouchables") and adivasis (tribal peoples). In the latest development, the district magistrate issued a letter to the divisional commissioner charging that the organization has links to the guerillas and demanding an investigation. The AHRC says that last year a JADS rally was attacked by local "goons," with the police "looking away." (Scoop, New Zealand, Jan. 28)