(MENAFN - Arab Times) Indian Maoist rebels took 250 villagers hostage in restive Chhattisgarh just hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi toured the central state on Saturday, officials said. Guerillas abducted the villagers late Friday in Sukma district, 80 kilometres (50 miles) away from where the right-wing Modi later addressed a public rally, said the state's chief minister. "250 villagers have been abducted by the Maoists. We are trying our best to secure their release," Raman Singh said without giving further details. Lawmaker Kawashi Lakma told AFP that the rebels grabbed locals from Morenga village and took them through deep forests to a nearby hill. "The Maoists had been opposing the construction of a bridge on one of the rivers because they felt it would give the security forces easy access to their hideouts," said Kawashi Lakma. "We have sent some people to negotiate with them." The abduction is the latest incident in a long-running conflict that pits the insurgents against security forces in remote areas of the so-called "Red Corridor" stretching through central and eastern India. The Maoists are believed to be present in at least 20 states, but are most active in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, occupying vast swathes of land.
The insurgents, who say they are fighting for the rights of tribal people and landless farmers, often collect funds through extortion and protection rackets. The insurgency is believed to have cost tens of thousands of lives. On Saturday, Modi touched on the violence in the povertystricken area as he pledged a multi-million dollar investment for the region. "Violence has no future". Don't get disheartened. The macabre drama of death will end soon," Modi told the rally. A top state official said Saturday that efforts were underway to secure the release of around 250 villagers being held by Maoist rebels protesting the construction of a bridge in central India, a common tactic used by the insurgents.
The rebels rounded up the villagers in Chhattisgarh state's Sukma district late Friday and are holding them in nearby forests, said the state's chief minister, Raman Singh. In the past, the rebels have held villagers as a negotiating tactic to get a state to concede to their demands. They usually release the villagers unharmed once their demands are met. "This happens routinely. They will let the villagers go in a day or two," said S.R.P. Kalluri, inspector general of police in Sukma. Singh told reporters that officials were negotiating with the rebels and expressed confidence that the villagers would be released soon. The incident embarrassed Singh's government as it occurred on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Chhattisgarh.