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Chhattisgarh is not enemy zone: Antony

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By SUJAN DUTTA
  • Published 15.06.11
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New Delhi, June 14: Defence minister A.K. Antony today said army units near the Maoist areas of Chhattisgarh would only be in training and not deployed for operations.

“It (Chhattisgarh) is not enemy territory,” he said, when asked what role was envisaged for the army that this month sent two units near a suspected Maoist base in Abujhmarh area.

“The army is training in many states… because they want to have a feel of all kinds of terrain — deserts, mountains and plains. They are now establishing a new training unit there,” he said.

The army does indeed have a shortage of training ranges. But the choice of a range in the Maoist areas has many meanings. First, it helps the army establish a staging post if it has to go into operations. Second, the army also gets to know and map a terrain where it never really had reason to venture into.

The army has also set up a “sub area command” near Raipur under its Allahabad-headquartered Central Command. Two units of the army went into the Naxalite areas this month to set up camps.

The presence of the army in an area where the military had no base has been opposed by the Maoists. Some experts believe the killing of 18 policemen in three successive attacks in Narayanpur and south Dantewada districts was an expression of the Maoists’ aggressive intent.

In January, army chief Gen. V.K. Singh had said that he had asked the government for “rules of engagement”. This requires the Union home ministry to clarify to the army if it can fire or counter-attack if baited by the Maoists.

The Indian Air Force, which has four helicopters in aid of central and state police in counter-Naxalite operations, has been told that it can fire in self-defence. Since last year, IAF helicopters have been armed with medium machine guns.

Antony said the army’s presence in Chhattisgarh is not intended to escalate conflict. “The land is allotted only for training. We will not cut a single tree, we will not harass anybody there. We are not against anybody, it is not an enemy territory,” he said.

When it announced it was opening a “manoeuvre range” in south Chhattisgarh last December, the army in a note said: “This will be the first time that any sizeable strength of the army moves into this region. The deployments will indeed open up the region to the outside world.

“Purchase of local materials and supplies will bring in jobs and finance to cash-strapped villages. The presence of the army will also bring a feeling of security to the villages.”

On a reported threat to Indian territory in the Northeast, Antony said the army and the air force were beefing up their capabilities. The comment came after the Arunachal minister for finance and planning, Kalikho Pul, reportedly told Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia that there was a threat from China.

“Just as the other side (China) is increasing its capabilities, our army and air force are steadily increasing their capabilities. So we are confident of protecting our interest in any territory. At the moment the border is peaceful,” Antony said.”