Maoists withdraw from peace talks

Maoists withdraw from peace talks

Kolkata: Amid escalating violence in the economically backward districts of West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) on Monday said it was withdrawing from a peace process initiated by the state’s Trinamool Congress government.

Soon after taking over as chief minister in May, Mamata Banerjee formed a committee led by civil rights activist Sujato Bhadra to initiate peace talks with the Maoist insurgents. It was initially given three months to submit a report on how to stem the movement peacefully.

One of Banerjee’s pre-poll promises was to seek a peaceful solution to the Maoist problem.

The state-appointed team of interlocutors held two rounds of discussion with Maoist leaders, and in the second meeting on 30 September, the rebels agreed to a month-long ceasefire, which ended in October.

Incursions by joint forces continued even after the government and the rebels agreed to the ceasefire, Akash said.

That apart, the state is redoubling efforts to stamp out the outlawed political party from Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore districts by hiring in its police force some 10,000 local people, he added.

Banerjee didn’t create a “congenial atmosphere" for the peace talks to begin, a Maoist politburo leader said in a phone interview from an unknown location. He did not want to be identified.

“Our first demand was the release of all people who were unlawfully detained for their alleged involvement with our movement," he said. “Also, we wanted the state government to quash the untenable criminal cases initiated against them."

The government did neither. Instead, the Trinamool Congress raised its own armed group similar to the one run earlier by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, to take on the rebels and to expand its control over the disturbed areas, he said. The Trinamool Congress denies offering patronage to any armed group.

The timing of Monday’s announcement by the Maoists surprised security experts. The rebels are known to maintain a low profile during winter because thinning vegetation in the forests makes movement difficult for their armed squads.

“It’s hard to guess what they are up to," said a police officer from the West Midnapore district, requesting anonymity. “One would have normally expected them to pursue the peace talks at least until the end of the winter."

Chhoton Das, one of the state-appointed interlocutors, said no one in the team had heard of the announcement. “The ceasefire has ended and no progress has lately been made. The peace process had anyhow lost steam," he said.

“The peace process was never transparent," said Md. Salim, a spokesperson for the CPM. “It wasn’t taken seriously either by the state government or the Maoist leaders after a point. No one knows what came out of the two meetings."

Making a U-turn from her pre-poll statement that there were no rebels in West Bengal, Banerjee has lately described the Maoists as “contract killers" and “jungle mafia".

In public rallies last week, she warned Maoist leaders that her party’s supporters would politically retaliate against any killing of innocent people.

“We were the ones who wanted to give peace a chance, and so didn’t resist for a month police incursions and attacks by armed groups raised by the Trinamool Congress," said the Maoist politburo member cited above.

At the heart of the dispute was Banerjee’s call for a surrender of arms, which the Maoists continue to spurn.