Rights body calls on India to stop support to Salwa Judum

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New Delhi, Jul 15 (UNI) The New York based Human Rights Watch today called upon India to put an end to all government support for ''unlawful'' activities by the Salwa Judum vigilantes, and urged affected state governments to take immediate measures to protect the tens of thousands of persons displaced.

''The Centre and the Chhattisgarh state government should hold accountable government security forces and state-backed vigilantes responsible for attacking, killing, and forcibly displacing tens of thousands of people in armed operations against Maoist rebels since mid-2005 in southern Chhattisgarh,'' Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released today.

The 182-page report, "'Being Neutral is Our Biggest Crime': Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in India's Chhattisgarh State," documents ''human rights abuses'' against civilians, particularly indigenous tribal communities, caught in a tug-of-war between government security forces and the vigilante Salwa Judum and Naxalites.

The report recounted more than 50 eyewitness accounts of alleged attacks involving government security forces in 18 different villages in Dantewada and Bijapur districts of Chhattisgarh.

At the same time, it said the Naxalites have carried out bombings, and have abducted, beaten, and executed civilians, particularly those suspected of supporting the Salwa Judum.

''Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are stranded in government camps in Chhattisgarh or in the forestlands of Andhra Pradesh,''it said.

''The Chhattisgarh government denies supporting Salwa Judum, but dozens of eyewitnesses have described police participating in violent Salwa Judum raids on villages," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and member of the research team.

''Instead of promoting vigilantes, the Chhattisgarh government should be promoting respect for human rights and pursuing accountability.'' Naxalite rebels have retaliated in a brutal manner, abducting, assaulting, and killing civilians perceived to be Salwa Judum supporters, the report said.

It also said even before the conflict escalated in mid-2005 due to Salwa Judum's operations, the Naxalites have been responsible for widespread human rights abuses, including torture, extortion, summary executions, and the recruitment of child soldiers.

''Thousands of families have lost their land, homes, and livelihoods, and now survive in crowded and decrepit camps with little assistance," said Becker. "Chhattisgarh officials should help restore the lives of those who wish to return to their homes, and improve conditions for those who fear returning." Human Rights Watch called on the Naxalites to immediately end all attacks against civilians and allow camp residents to return to their home villages without reprisals.

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