Naxals lay siege to villages in poll-bound Chhattisgarh

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Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh, Oct 29 (UNI) As electioneering gathers momentum in Chhattisgarh for the second Assembly polls since the state's formation in 2000, an uneasy calm prevails in rural areas with several people's representatives, including sitting MLAs, in Bastar region under 24-hour police escort or Maoists laying siege to their villages.

Nearly 600 villages in south Bastar, with population exceeding three lakh, wear a deserted look while native places of most people's representatives in Dantewada and Bijapur districts are under Naxal seige, police admitted.

Ironically, several thousand people of these villages had been uprooted due to the rebel threat or harassment by volunteers of the state government-supported anti-ultra 'Salwa Judum' movement -- which literally means Peace Movement in the tribal Gondi dialect -- and many were forced to seek refuge at government-run relief camps or in nearby forests.

As a fallout of extremist activities, the government plans to set up polling booths at the camps, official sources said.

Several thousand people migrated to neighbouring districts of Andhra Pradesh, while many tribals -- who were initially forced to take shelter in the camps -- deserted those camps as the government stopped free distribution of food grain and they could not find work in nearby areas.

Though about 50,000 people initially sheltered in 24 camps, their number dwindled to less than half with many heading back to their native places.

Congress tribal stalwart and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Mahendra Karma, who hails from Dantewada, is on the hit list of the militants, who are running a parallel government in the southern part of Bastar division for about two decades.

Mr Karma was granted Z-plus security and a police camp is situated at his native village Faraspal. Despite opposition from his own party, he took the initiative to launch Salwa Judum.

Public Health Engineering Minister Kedar Kashyap -- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Bhanpuri -- has also been provided Z category security.

Bhopalpattan, the native village of Bijapur's Congress MLA Rajendra Pambhoi, is dominated by insurgents. Mr Pambhoi enjoys Y category security.

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