Chinese arms reaching insurgent in Northeast: India

11 06 2008

Courtesy: Khabarein.com
NEW DELHI, May 22 (KUNA) — India Thursday expresssed concern over the possession of Chinese origin arms by the insurgent groups in India’s Northeast and stated that such weapons were entering into the country through Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Chinese made weapons were increasingly being seized from insurgent groups in India’s Northeast and such arms have also reached the illegal arms market in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a source in the Indian Defence Ministry told KUNA here Thursday. “Most of these arms are entering India through the Myanmar and Bangladesh route” it is clear from the design that they are of Chinese origin,” the source said. “We are concerned over growing Chinese influence in the region. The cost of the Chinese made weapons in the black market in the Northeast region is within the affordable range and this is a cause of concern,” the source pointed out. “While the trend had been growing over the last coupe of years, the seizure of a massive arms consignment in 2004 in Chittagong in Southeast Bangladesh brought things out in the open for the first time. It was one of the biggest-ever arms seizures in Bangladesh and raised alarm bells throughout the region, including us, after it was known that the Chinese-origin weapons were meant for Northeast insurgent groups,” the source said.

Over 1,700 assault rifles, 400 Uzi submachine guns, 150 rocket propelled grenade launchers and a large quantity of ammunition originating from Hong Kong were seized by Bangladesh authorities in 2004 at the port city of Chittagong.

India’s concerns were also echoed by leading global defence think-tank Jane’s Intelligence Review (JIR). In a report published this month, JIR said that China has replaced Cambodia and Thailand as the main supplier of weapons to insurgent groups in India’s Northeast and Myanmar as well as LTTE in Sri Lanka.

“Rebel group — United Wa State Army (UWSA) — in Myanmar acts as the middleman between Chinese arms manufacturers and insurgent groups in the Northeast, with most weapons routed through China’s Yunnan province, “India’s leading English daily “The Indian Express” reported Thursday, quoting JIR. UWSA is a 20,000-member group operating in eastern Myanmar. “China’s illicit arms trade with rebel groups — LTTE and the Kachin Independence Army in Myanmar — is also on the upswing,” the JIR said. “LTTE websites display photographs of a range of new Chinese weaponry, including the modern 5.56 mm QBZ-95 bull pup-design assault rifles that the rebels cannot claim to have captured from the Sri Lankan Armed forces,” the daily said.

“Taliban militia in Afghanistan have also been gaining access to Chinese arms. So are African conflict zones of Zimbabwe and Sudan,” The Indian Express reported, quoting JIR.

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Northeast India is poised to tap economic potential

11 06 2008

The eight-state area plans multiple projects to increase its trade with Southeast Asia.
By Shankhadeep Choudhury, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer May 29, 2008
NEW DELHI — India’s remote northeast region has been both blessed and cursed by its geography. The region is rich in natural resources but is landlocked and surrounded by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, leaving it impoverished.The eight-state region may finally get a chance to start living up to its economic potential with several projects to enhance connections with Southeast Asia and to increase outlets for such commodities as organic foods, orchids, tea, coal and oil.


Map

Now, the only way to move major quantities of goods between northeast India and Southeast Asia is through Bangladesh.But authorities in Myanmar and India are nearing final approval of a $100-million river project giving northeast India direct access to the Indian Ocean through Myanmar, said Abhijit Barooah, chairman of the northeastern chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industry, India’s premier business association.The project envisages facilitating movement of cargo from India’s Mizoram state to Myanmar’s port at Sittwe, via the Kaladan River.In addition, talks have begun between companies in northeast India and Thailand after a trade-promotion conference in Bangkok in October, said Lemli Loyi, assistant general manager at the state-run North Eastern Development Finance Corp.
Loyi expressed hope that the talks would result in increased business and possible joint ventures.India first enunciated a “look east” policy, an economic and strategic orientation toward Southeast Asia, in 1992. It had its genesis at the end of the Cold War, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Having lost the Soviet economic and political support on which it had relied, the Indian government embarked on a program of free-market restructuring at home and sought new markets and economic partners abroad.Officials envisaged that the eight northeast states — Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Mizoram — would emerge as a trading hub for two dynamic regions connected by a network of highways, railways, pipelines and transmission lines. The region is home to about 40 million people.But progress has been slow.
The region’s isolation dates to the 1800s.”Nineteenth-century British colonial decisions to draw lines between the hills and the plains, to put barriers on trade between Bhutan and Assam, and to treat Burma as a buffer against French Indochina and China severed the region from its traditional trade routes — the southern trails of the Silk Road,” said Sanjib Baruah, a professor of political science at Bard College in New York and an expert on northeast India.The British built railways and roads mostly to take tea, coal, oil and other resources out of Assam and into the rest of India and also to Europe.The problems increased with the partitioning of India and Pakistan in 1947. Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan in the 1970s.
Barooah said trade would be boosted by an expected move by the Indian and Myanmar governments to expand the list of mostly agricultural commodities allowed to be traded by land between northeast India and Myanmar, from 27 to 42 items.”The northeast is the closest land mass connecting the dynamic economies of south and Southeast Asia,” said Pradyut Bordoloi, Assam’s minister for power and industries. “Besides deep-rooted cultural linkages, we can reap multidimensional benefits in this era of regional economic cooperation.”Bordoloi is closely associated with a campaign to reopen the World War II-era Stillwell Road, connecting Assam’s town of Ledo to southwest China.”If reopened, this would be the shortest surface route to Yunnan province of China and other Southeast Asian countries hooking onto the trans-Asian highways,” he said.The road served as the supply line into China during Japan’s wartime occupation, but it was shut after India’s independence from Britain in 1947.
Bordoloi said his campaign to reopen the road, initiated after he became a state legislator in 1998, scored a victory when India upgraded the road to a full-fledged national highway, developing it up to the Indo-Myanmar border.Officials say infrastructure development, power, bamboo-based industries, orchids and organic foods are prospective areas of cooperation with Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand.But significant hurdles remain, including concerns that booming trade relations may fuel rises in insurgency, narco-terrorism and AIDS, all of which plague the northeast. Security in the region is tight, with the army out in force to combat armed groups battling for greater autonomy or independence from India.”The official restrictions that prevail in northeast India — in terms of travel, land and labor markets — are hardly conducive to intensive cross-border economic relations,” said Baruah, the political science professor.”Both the reality of insurgencies in the region and the security anxiety of the government of India . . . are major obstacles to dynamic cross-border economic ties,” he added, calling current efforts hardly more than “a bare beginning.”Also, Baruah said, it was difficult to imagine a big increase in trade given the political situation in military-led Myanmar.
India’s relations with China, a country it has long regarded with distrust since a 1962 border war, would also have to become much more relaxed, Baruah said.




In India, death to global business: Naxal threat

11 06 2008

Manjeet Kripalani,

BusinessWeek (from rediff.com)

On the night of Apr 24, a group of 300 men and women, armed with bows and arrows and sickles and led by gun-wielding commanders, emerged swiftly and silently from the dense forest in India’s Chhattisgarh state. The guerrillas descended on an iron ore processing plant owned by Essar Steel [Get Quote], one of India’s biggest companies. There the attackers torched the heavy machinery on the site, plus 53 buses and trucks. Press reports say they also left a note: Stop shipping local resources out of the state – or else.

The assault on the Essar facility was the work of Naxalites – Maoist insurgents who seek the violent overthrow of the state and who despise India’s landowning and business classes. The Naxalites have been slowly but steadily spreading through the countryside for decades.

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Few outside India have heard of these rebels, named after the Bengal village of Naxalbari, where their movement started in 1967. Not many Indians have thought much about the Naxalites, either. The Naxalites mostly operate in the remote forests of eastern and central India, still a comfortable remove from the bustle of Mumbai and the thriving outsourcing centres of Gurgaon, New Delhi, and Bangalore.

Yet the Naxalites may be the sleeper threat to India’s economic power, potentially more damaging to Indian companies, foreign investors, and the state than pollution, crumbling infrastructure, or political gridlock.

Just when India needs to ramp up its industrial machine to lock in growth – and just when foreign companies are joining the party – the Naxalites are clashing with the mining and steel companies essential to India’s long-term success. The threat doesn’t stop there.

The Naxalites may move next on India’s cities, where outsourcing, finance, and retailing are thriving. Insurgents who embed themselves in the slums of Mumbai don’t have to overrun a call centre to cast a pall over the India story. “People in the cities think India is strong and Naxalism will fizzle out,” says Bibhu Routray, the top Naxal expert at New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management. “Yet considering what has happened in Nepal” – where Maoists have just taken over the government – “it could happen here as well. States, capitals, districts could all be taken over.”

Officials at the highest levels of government are starting to acknowledge the scale of the Naxal problem. In May a special report from the Planning Commission, a government think tank, detailed the extent of the danger and the “collective failure” in social and economic policy that caused it.

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The report comes five months after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shocked the country with a candid admission: “The Naxal groups…are targeting all aspects of economic activity…(including) vital infrastructure so as to cripple transport and logistical capabilities and slow down any development. (We) cannot rest in peace until we have eliminated this virus.”

Why such rhetoric now about a movement that has coexisted with the rest of India for more than 40 years? One reason is the widening reach of the Naxalites. Today they operate in 30 per cent of India, up from 9 per cent in 2002. Almost 1,400 Indians were killed in Naxal violence in 2007, according to the Asian Center for Human Rights.

Collision course
The other reason for sounding the alarm stems from the increasingly close proximity between the corporate world and the forest domain of the Naxalites. India’s emergence as a hot growth market depended at first on the tech outsourcing boom in Bangalore and elsewhere.
Now the world is discovering the skill and productivity of India’s manufacturers as well. Meanwhile India’s affluent urban consumers have started buying autos, appliances, and homes, and they’re demanding improvements in the country’s roads, bridges, and railroads.

To stoke Indian manufacturing and satisfy consumers, the country needs cement, steel, and electric power in record amounts. In steel alone, India almost has to double capacity from 60 million tons a year now to 110 million tons. “We need a suitable social and economic environment to meet this national challenge,” says Essar Steel chief Jatinder Mehra.

Instead there’s a collision with the Naxalites. India has lots of unmined iron ore and coal – the essential ingredients of steel and electric power. Anxious to revive their moribund economies, the poor but resource-rich states of eastern India have given mining and land rights to Indian and multinational companies. Yet these deposits lie mostly in territory where the Naxals operate.

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Chhattisgarh, a state in eastern India across from Mumbai and a hotbed of Naxalite activity, has 23 per cent of India’s iron ore deposits and abundant coal. It has signed memoranda of understanding and other agreements worth billions with Tata Steel [Get Quote] and ArcelorMittal, De Beers Consolidated Mines, BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto. Other states have cut similar deals. And US companies like Caterpillar want to sell equipment to the mining companies now digging in eastern India.

The appearance of mining crews, construction workers, and truckers in the forest has seriously alarmed the tribals who have lived in these regions from time immemorial. The tribals are a minority – about 85 million strong – who descend from India’s original inhabitants and are largely nature worshippers.

They are desperately poor, but unlike the poverty of the urban masses in Mumbai or Kolkata, their suffering has remained largely hidden to outsiders and most Indians, caught up as they are in the country’s incredible growth. The Naxalites, however, know the tribals well and have recruited from their ranks for decades.

Judging from their past experience with development, the tribals have a right to be afraid of the mining and building that threaten to change their lands. “Tribals in India, like all indigenous people, are already the most displaced people in the country, having made way for major dams and other projects,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia chief researcher for Human Rights Watch, which is compiling a report on the Naxal movement. The tribals are supposed to be justly compensated for any land used by the companies, but the states’ record in this area is patchy at best.

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This creates an opening for the Naxalites. “If there is a land acquisition issue over a project, the Naxals come in and say, ‘We will fight on your behalf,'” says Anami Roy, the director general of police for Maharashtra, the western state that has Mumbai as its capital. Upon his appointment to the post in March, Roy declared Naxalism to be the biggest threat to the state’s peace.
For those who see things differently from the Naxalites, the results can be terrifying. In January in Chhattisgarh, a village chieftain, suspected of being a police informer, was kidnapped, mutilated, and killed with a sickle – an example to any of the villagers who dared to oppose the Naxals.

Company executives talk sotto voce about how dangerous it is for a villager to support business projects. “No villager has the courage to stand up to the Naxalites,” says one manager who is often in the region. The possibility of violence has contributed to the slow progress of many mining projects.

Nik Senapati, country head of Rio Tinto, which has outstanding permits for prospecting in eastern India, knows the threat. “It’s possible to work here,” he says. “But we avoid parts where there are Naxals. We won’t risk our people.”

The Naxalites often don’t hesitate to kill or intimidate their foes, no matter how powerful they are. Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who is credited with turning the state capital of Hyderabad into a tech center, narrowly avoided death at their hands.

Targeting cities
But the Naxalites can offer their followers clear benefits. Lakshmi Jalma Khodape, 32, alias Renuka, a petite tribal from Iheri, Maharashtra, was just 15 when she joined up. “I had no education,” she recalls. “My father was a guard in the forest department. The Naxals taught me how to read and write.” Eventually disgusted by the Naxals’ violence, Lakshmi surrendered to the state police and now lives under their protection.

Undeniably, the Naxals are viewed as Robin Hoods for many of their efforts. “The tribals have benefited economically thanks to the Naxals,” says human rights lawyer K Balagopal, who has defended captured Naxalites in court cases.

In Maharashtra, tribals pick tender tendu leaves, which are rolled to make a cigarette called a “bidi.” Contractors used to pay them the equivalent of a penny for picking 1,000 leaves from the surrounding forest. The contractors would then take the leaves to the factory owners and sell them for a huge markup. But the Naxals intervened, threatening the contractors and demanding better wages. Since 2002 the contractors have increased the price to about $4 per 1,000 leaves.
According to the Institute for Conflict Management, the Naxalites are now planning to penetrate India’s major cities. Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute, says they are looking to encircle urban centers, find sympathy among students and the unemployed, and create armed, “secret, self-defense squads” that will execute orders. Their targets are the two main industrialised belts that run along the east and west coasts.

That’s an ambitious plan, but the Institute estimates there are already 12,000 armed Naxalites, plus 13,000 “sympathisers and workers.” This is no ragtag army. It is an organised force, trained in guerrilla warfare. At the top, it is led by a central command staffed by members of the educated classes. The government also fears the Naxalites have many clandestine supporters among the urban left. The police have recently been rounding up suspected allies in the cities.

Ready recruits
The Naxalites are already operating on the edge of industrialised Maharashtra state, about 600 miles from Mumbai. The litany of complaints from village women in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district is endless and is one reason the Naxalites find ready recruits here.

The teachers don’t come to teach in the government school, and when they do, say local parents, they drink and gamble on the premises. In one village, the sixth-graders don’t know how to read and write despite the fact that the state pays teachers 20 per cent extra for volunteering to work in Naxal-infested areas.

In the civil hospital in Gadchiroli, poor villagers have to purchase all the equipment for treatment themselves, from scalpels to swabs. (The hospital says it’s well stocked.) “This is what happens in nontribal villages,” says Dr Rani Bang, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine physician who runs a popular tribal hospital in the nearby forest. “You can imagine how bad it is for tribals.”

Despite the need to ease the tribals’ poverty and blunt the appeal of the Naxalites, New Delhi still treats the insurgency largely as a law-and-order problem. States like Chhattisgarh, whose ill-trained police force is overwhelmed, have unleashed vigilantes on the Naxalites and the tribals and given the force arms and special protection under the law.

The vigilantes, called Salwa Judum (“Peace Mission”), have made homeless an estimated 52,000 tribals, who have fled to poorly run, disease-infested government camps. Allegations of rape and unprovoked killings have dogged the Salwa Judum. Efforts to reach Salwa Judum were unsuccessful, but the state government has vigorously defended the group.

The problem is so severe that, in March, a public interest lawsuit was filed in India’s Supreme Court by noted historian Ramachandra Guha, who demanded an investigation into Salwa Judum’s activities. The court granted the request in April. Guha himself is not sanguine about the state’s ability to address the Naxal issue.

“The problem is serious, it is growing, our police force is soft,” he says. “Thousands of lives will be lost over the next 15 years.”





Sreelatha Menon: Mirror on the wall

11 06 2008

EAR TO THE GROUND

Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi May 18, 2008, 2:24 IST

A Planning Commission report points at lack of empowerment of local communities as the main reason for the fast spread of the Naxal movement.

The UPA government will be known for many achievements, notably the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Right to Information Act, and if all goes well, the Women’s Reservation Act as well.
But the finest may yet come if the recommendations of an expert group of the Planning Commission on development challenges in extremist-affected areas are translated into action.
The report is honest and harsh about the mistakes governments have made over the last 60 years that have led to Naxalism thriving in so many districts of the country. It asks governments to undo the damage and do everything, including talking to Naxalites, “to rectify a historic wrong.”
The report says lack of empowerment of panchayats is one of the key causes for lack of development in rural areas with the Provision for Extension of Panchayat Act (PESA) only partially implemented in tribal areas.
It raises the issue of states’ unwillingness to part with their power and functions to share them with panchayats. The fact that the writ of the state does not run in as many as 125 districts in extremism-affected areas makes it clear that the state bureaucracy has abjectly failed in delivering good governance in these areas. Hence, empowerment of panchayats would practically be the only way for effective governance of these areas.
It also looks at the huge underbelly of deprivation below the crest of 9 per cent growth rate. Even the government’s attempt to bridge this has resulted in more divides.
“We have two worlds of education, two worlds of health, two worlds of transport and two worlds of housing..,”it says.
It also points at the many conflicts that are going on in mining zones even as new steel companies are exploring ground to do business without any intention of including communities as stakeholders.
It says “even those who know very little about the Naxalite movement know that its central slogan has been ‘land to the tiller’ and that attempts to put the poor in possession of land have defined much of their activity.”
In this context, the report questions the wisdom of having special economic zones (SEZs), saying “the notion of an SEZ, irrespective of whether it is established on multi-cropped land or not, is an assault on livelihood”. It again points at intrusion into the vital life vein of tribal and rural communities viz their common property resources, which contribute significantly to the rural economy and provide sustenance to local communities in rural areas.
It says privatisation is carried out through extension of the boundaries of private farms, forcible grabbing, and distributive policies of the government, and hints that all these are making it a cakewalk for Naxalites.
Nandini Sundar, a teacher and scholar who has written vastly on Naxal issues, says it is one of the finest reports and looks at the matter exactly as it should. She welcomes the suggestion that the government should talk to Naxalites. If it can succeed in Nepal, why not with the Maoists in India, she asks.