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Maoist rebels give rude wake-up call to India

NEW DELHI, Wednesday (Reuters) India, struggling to contain a bloody revolt in Kashmir and several insurgencies in its remote northeast, got a brutal reminder this week that it cannot afford to ignore a growing Maoist threat in its heartland.

In their biggest attack to date, more than 700 Maoist rebels temporarily took over parts of a town in impoverished Bihar state in a brazen Sunday night raid. The insurgents freed nearly 400 prisoners from a jail, including many rebels, and killed three policemen and a member of a private landlord army.

"This attack shows the capability and reach the Maoists have acquired. It was the first attack on a district headquarter town," Bibhuti Bhusan Nandy, a former official of India's spy agency, said in Kolkata on Tuesday.

"This will further embolden them." Thousands have been killed in nearly four decades of intermittent Maoist violence but the rebels - who claim to fight for India's impoverished peasantry and landless labourers - have stepped up attacks in recent months.

Analysts say the merger of two of India's largest radical leftist groups last year and greater links between Indian and Nepali Maoists - who are fighting to overthrow Nepal's monarchy - have boosted the Indian Maoists' striking power.

"What is even more worrying is the fact they have established clear links with their counterparts in Nepal," said an Asian Age editorial on Tuesday headlined "Open War".

In Jehanabad, a town of around 80,000 in Bihar, which adjoins Nepal, the Maoists - who operate from jungle hideouts across south and east India - easily defeated the small police force after warning residents to stay indoors.

They also kidnapped members of a private landlord army from jail and are reported to have killed nine of them.

Alarmed by the spike in Maoist attacks in recent months, New Delhi announced a two-pronged strategy in September.

This entails more coordination between security agencies in nine Maoist-affected states and a greater push for development in impoverished districts.

But Maoist strikes have continued, leaving dozens dead, many of them policemen.

Sociologists say the Maoists draw support from India's rural poor - especially lower-caste Hindus and landless tribals - who took no benefits either from India's earlier attempts at socialist development or its 14-year-old economic reforms.

"The Maoists are able to mobilise people because there is a sense of desperation among these sections," Ashish Nandy of the New Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies said.

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