Forces may halt anti-Naxal ops during corona pandemic

New Delhi/Bastar (IANS) In view of the humanitarian crisis that has erupted due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, security agencies are mulling over the option of halting all the counter-insurgency operations against armed Maoists in the Naxal belt of India.

Sources told IANS that the security agencies in Chhattisgarh are exploring the possibility of a "humanitarian ceasefire" as the Covid-19 contagion is spreading in India, with around 700 infected and 14 people dead so far.

However, the top police officer of Naxal operations in Raipur, Inspector General of Police (Bastar range) P. Sundar Raj told IANS said that security forces do not have the authority or mandate to take such decisions.

"I am just a police officer. Bastar Police and security forces here have a mandate to ensure safety to life and property of the people. At present the entire world is fighting against Covid-19. Bastar Police is also committed to fighting this virus," he said.

The IGP said that hygiene is a major issue among Maoists since they all live together in a commune with hardly any healthcare. "There is no social distancing in a commune and the villagers are worried about it at the moment. They are putting not only their lives at risk but endangering the lives of thousands of tribals living in the nearby areas. There is a lot of social pressure over the Maoists to shun violence during this global crisis," he said.

Also, due to the lockdown, the entire system, other than the essential services, outside the Maoist areas, has come to a standstill. "Because of the terror created by the Maoists, it is generally difficult for healthcare workers to work in Naxal areas. Now with the country-wide lockdown, volunteers who are helping with essential services and distribution of relief packages, will find it even more challenging to help the tribals living in the Maoist controlled areas, if Naxals continue their violence," the counter-insurgency specialist said.

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Just three days ago, police found bodies of 17 security personnel who had gone missing after an encounter with Maoists in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh.

Ceasefire, Sunder Raj said, is an option when the state launches a war. "The state is not the aggressor or perpetrator of violence here. The state has always desired peace for its citizens. Our endeavour right now is that we maintain peace while fighting the coronavirus together with our healthcare system and essential services to cope with the humanitarian crisis. Now it is up to the Maoists to take a call to shun violence in the greater interest of the humanity," he said.

Incidentally, the Communist Party of the Philippines, in a direct response to the call of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire between warring parties for the common purpose of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, has ordered all its commands and units to observe a nationwide ceasefire from March 26 to April 15.

The convener for the new peace process in central India and activist who works with displaced tribals in Chhattisgarh, Shubhranshu Choudhary has also appealed to the government and armed Maoists to observe ceasefire and initiate a peace dialogue through the lockdown.

"Government figures in India say that in the last 20 years, more than 12 thousand people have died in this conflict. In 53 years, about 40 thousand people may have been killed here. I request the Indian government and the Maoists to follow Philippines at the moment. When a tsunami struck in Indonesia in 2004, a ceasefire that started between the rebels and the government in Aceh area, was finally successful in reaching a peace agreement in 2005," Choudhary said.

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