Indian cops arrest top Maoist leader

KOLKATA: Indian police have arrested a senior Maoist rebel blamed for an attack on a police camp in the east of the country last month that killed 25 people, officials said today.

The man, known by the names Deepak and Venkateswar Reddy, is a close associate of the rebels’ top commander Kishenji, West Bengal government official Raj Kanojia told AFP. A special police team arrested the 45-year-old Reddy late yesterday in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state and one of the many areas across India afflicted by Maoist violence.

“Reddy is a key aide of Maoist leader Kishenji,” Kanojia said, adding that intelligence officials had been shadowing him for several days. “He is an explosives expert and we think he had a major role in the Silda attack that claimed the lives of 24 policemen and a civilian in a western district of West Bengal,” Kanojia said.

The official was referring to the February 15 attack in restive Midnapore district, in which around 20 rebels attacked a police camp using guns and landmines.

Police at the time described the armed assault as the worst ever by Maoists on security forces in West Bengal. The Maoists said they were responding to a large-scale government offensive aimed at flushing the outlawed insurgents from their strongholds.

India’s government considers Maoist rebels to be the country’s biggest internal security threat.

The leftist insurgents are estimated to number 10,000-20,000 and are predominantly active in a large swathe of the country from the north and east — called the “Red Corridor.” The Maoist insurgency began as a peasant uprising in 1967 and has now spread to 20 of India’s 29 states. They claim to be fighting for the rights of impoverished tribal people.

The government has offered talks with the Maoists, but only if they renounce violence. Maoist leader Kishenji last week told media the guerrillas were ready for talks if the government suspended their offensive.