India arrests 11 after Maoist massacre

PATNA: Indian police said on Saturday they had arrested 11 suspected Maoists accused of gunning down 16 villagers in a massacre in the east of the country linked to a land dispute.

The 11 were arrested on suspicion of murder, said police in Bihar state, adding they were looking for another 39 suspects.

"Eleven people, including the mastermind of the incident, were arrested, and the interrogation is on," police inspector-general A.R. Kinni told AFP from Khagaria district, where the incident occurred.

The perpetrators are suspected Maoists who supported low-caste villagers in a long-standing dispute with landowners, police said.

"We strongly feel the Maoists were behind the incident," district magistrate Abhay Singh said.

On Thursday over 50 armed rebels raided Amausi village, 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Patna, shooting the 16 landowners and their families, including five children, police said.

They said a lone survivor had identified the killers and affirmed their Maoist affiliation.

The quarrel erupted when low-caste villagers wanted to evict the higher-caste villagers from their land, a common cause of disputes in India.

India's Maoist insurgency, which started as a peasant uprising in 1967, has spread to 20 of the country's 29 states and claimed more than 600 lives this year.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of neglected tribespeople and landless farmers, but officials accuse them of using intimidation and extortion to secure the cooperation of impoverished villagers.

Bihar Home Secretary Amir Subhani said the government had launched an inquiry into the killings.

Police said security forces were on alert for similar attacks as angry villagers protested what they said was the authorities' failure to follow up warnings of Maoist activity.

Last month Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rebuked regional police chiefs for failing to stem the insurgency, which he described as the greatest threat to India's internal security.