Fri May 26, 2006, Reuters
RAIPUR, India (Reuters) – The United States has offered to help an Indian state remove thousands of mines planted by Maoist rebels and train its police force to battle the insurgents, a senior official said on Friday.
Chhattisgarh in central India is the worst-affected among at least 13 Indian states battling armed Maoist rebels who say they are fighting for the rights of millions of impoverished peasants and landless laborers.
Thousands have died in Maoist violence in India in the past three decades with a spike in attacks in the past 17 months — especially land mine blasts — causing hundreds of deaths.
Two American diplomats made the offer to the state government during a visit on Thursday, Chhattisgarh's Additional Chief Secretary (Home) B.K.S Ray said.
"They offered assistance in demining and counter-insurgency training of police personnel and they also offered humanitarian relief to the camps for tribals," Ray told Reuters.
Tens of thousands of tribals have fled to relief camps in the state to join a state-sponsored campaign against the Maoists.
Human rights groups say many people are being coerced into joining the Salwa Judum (Campaign for Peace) and have condemned the state government for putting civilians in the firing line.
The U.S. diplomats also visited a police jungle warfare school in Kanker town in southern Chhattisgarh.
More than 150 people, including policemen and dozens of members of the Salwa Judum, have been killed in Chhattisgarh since the start of this year. Most of them were killed in land mine blasts.
The U.S. offer to help Chhattisgarh is the first known foreign proposal of aid in India's fight against Maoist rebels.
"We welcome any one who supports us in the fight against terrorism," Ray said.
The U.S. embassy in New Delhi downplayed the offer, saying Washington is coordinating with India, an increasingly close friend, in law enforcement and counter-terrorism.
Embassy spokesman David Kennedy said the United States was dealing with federal agencies and he did not have the "specifics" of the Chhattisgarh trip by American officials.
Indian police say there are about 20,000 armed Maoist fighters across the country, with hundreds of thousands of supporters.
Last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the Maoists were the biggest threat to the country's internal security.