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News Wrap

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In the second week of March 2014, Maoists launched their biggest operation on Security Forces in three years, killing 15 security personnel on the border of Bastar and Sukma districts, in Chattisgarh. The security team was providing security to the road construction work on National Highway 30, that connects Raipur to Sukma. Clear fields stretch on both sides of the ambush spot, near Takkawada village (Sukma district), for a good distance before the hills begin. The armed Maoists took positions along farmlands under Tongpal Police Station, just metres off the National Highway. The ill-fated team of 45 security personnel, comprising men from the CRPF and Chattisgarh Police, had left Tongpal Police Station on 11 March 2014 morning, and headed north when it was attacked after covering nearly 3 km. Besides the 15 personnel, a villager was also killed. The Maoists had laid several IEDs on the road. The roads was being repaired at the instance of security forces, which recently set up several camps in the region. Resistance by the police was negligible. The guerillas took away 18 rifles, some under barrel grenade launchers, and 64 magazines. The jawans were outnumbered by the group of about 400 Maoists. The firing lasted less than 15 minutes. The ambush took place barely 10 km south of the spot, where the Maoists had attacked a Congress Party convoy in May 2013, killing 27 people.

Land Scam in J & K
An estimated Rs 25,000 crore land scam has arisen in Jammu and Kashmir, under the Roshni Scheme. The Jammu & Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, aimed to raise nearly Rs 25,448 crore, to finance power projects by selling over 20.64 lac kanals of state land, under unauthorised occupation. In the transfer of the encroached land to occupants from 2007 to 2013, only Rs 76 crore has been realized. The present value of the land would have been much higher, as Rs 25,000 crore was the cost of such land while the Act was enacted. Among the beneficiaries of the illegal and irregular deals under the Act were the National Conference’s Nawai Subha Trust and the Congress’s Khidmat Trust. Successive governments provided concessions and rebates to benefit encroachers. 3,40,091 kanals, categorized as agricultural, were transferred to encroachers for free. Even after transfer of 3,48,160 kanals of state land to its occupants, new encroachments continue unabated. Political Trust buildings and shopping complexes have been constructed on state land, at concessional rates.

Indian Warships Malfunction
Since August 2013, there have been several (over twelve) accidents, involving Indian Navy warships. The INS Sindhurakshak sank inside the Mumbai Harbour, killing all eighteen personnel on board on 14 August 2013. Soon after the INS Betwa was damaged, probably after hitting some under water object. While undergoing repairs in Vizakhapatnam, India’s leading minesweeper the INS Konkan caught fire, and suffered major damage to its interiors. The incident occurred when the Pondicherry class minesweeper was getting a refit at the dry dock. Early March 2014, INS Airavat, an amphibious warfare vessel, ran around, after which the commanding officer was stripped of his command duties. End February 2014, a fire and smoke incident on the submarine INS Sindhuratna off the Mumbai coast cause the death of two officers; and seven sailors fell ill. The Naval Chief Admiral D K Joshi resigned taking ‘‘moral responsibility’’, after the Sindhuratna incident. On 07 March 2014, a Kolkata-class destroyer ship had a malfunction in its carbon-di-oxide unit, while undergoing machinery trials at the Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) in Mumbai, leading to the death of a Commander Rank Officer, and hospitalization of some others. The accident occurred due to gas leakage on board the Kolkata-class destroyer ship yard 12701. The accident is a major set back to the induction of P15A and P15B destroyers in the Indian Navy.

Protests of Barricades
Protests, sit-ins and government shutdowns designed to oust Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have been continuing for more than five months. The leader of the insurrection, Suthep Thaugsuban has in mid-March 2014, dismantled most of the protest sites around Bangkok. Self appointed guards protect the tented city of Lumpini Park, the new headquarters of Thailand’s People’s Revolution. Supporters demanding political change are dwindling in number, but slogans and posters proclaim ‘‘Evolution before Elections’’ and ‘‘This corrupt government must be overthrown’’. Many protesters vow to remove Ms Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatre, the former Prime Minister ousted in a coup in 2006, from the political scene. The Thai government has averted violence and avoided army intervention, by refusing to confront the protesters directly. The Prime Minister’s position has been strengthened by victory in a snap election. Ms Yingluck’s supporters in the Shinawatra family’s political heartland in the north and north-east have been stead fast. The judiciary is pursuing the large number of legal challenges being mounted by opponents of the prime Minister. Ms Yingluck is defending herself before the National Anti-Corruption Commission on Criminal Charges, over alleged dereliction of duty, arising from the government’s disastrous scheme to help farmers by subsidising rice.

War Crimes in Sri Lanka
In 2013, from a mass grave behind a hospital in Matale, in the centre of the island of Sri Lanka, 154 bodies were dug out. The victims are supposed to be of an uprising by Marxist rebels in the 1980s. An excavation in Mannar, in the north-west produced 81 bodies, casualties of the more recent and long civil war, between Tamil seccessionists and the state. The police blame the blood thirsty rebels, defeated in 2009; but the army’s role is also suspected. 40,000 people, many of them civilians were killed, as the army trapped the rebels and the fleeing Tamils, in the final months of the civil war. Nine skeletons were pulled out from a Shallow grave, in the garden of a family home, in February 2014, near Mullaitiuu in the north-east. The Sri Lankan government blames the Tamil rebels. Tamil activists allege that the Sri Lankan army has systematically hidden evidence of wartime massacres, which it had committed in the north and east. The Red Cross counts 16,000 missing Sri Lankan people since 1990, with a sharp increase as the civil war came to an end. The Srik Lankan army had launched an inquiry, which had cleared it off massacres. The government appointed body, the ‘‘lessons learnt’’ commission submitted recommendations, which achieved little. A new inquiry into the missing, ordered by the Government of President Mahinda Rajakakse, is due to report in August 2014. Official suggestions, that Sri Lanka adopt a South African-style truth-and-reconciliation process, are halting serious investigations by foreigners.

The British-based group, the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice has issued a report with details of rape, touture and murder by government forces in the north, over the past five years. Sri Lankan diplomats even suggest that Indian peace-keepers, stationed in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s, may have carried out massacres. Even though government soldiers stationed in the north have been cut down by a third, there is an all-pervasive military intelligence on Tamils.

Frontier
Vol. 46, No. 41, Apr 20 - 26, 2014