Indian Maoists free seized train

11:09, 22 April 2009
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Up to 250 rebels took over the train

Maoist rebels who seized a train carrying several hundred passengers in eastern India have released them, police say, BBC reported.

Up to 250 rebels took over the train as it travelled through Jharkhand state and forced it to stop in a remote town.

They held the passengers for a short time but then withdrew. A Maoist spokesman there was no plan to cause harm and it was a symbolic gesture.

It came a day before the second round of voting in India`s general election.

The rebels have asked people to boycott the polls, which are taking place until 13 May.

At least 17 people were killed in attacks blamed on Maoists during the first stage of the election last week.

Jungle retreat

The train was seized at 0830 local time (0300 GMT) as it passed through a remote part of the state.

Just over three hours later the Maoists freed the hostages and retreated back into the jungle, police told the BBC.

A Maoist spokesman, Gopal, told the BBC: "This was a symbolic gesture, no intention to cause harm to passengers and anyway it is very hot here."

The hostage-takers were reportedly protesting against the death of five villagers allegedly shot by troops last week.

The troops said the five were local Maoists, who were killed during a clash following an attack in which two soldiers died.

Maoists operate in 182 districts in India, mainly in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal.

This is not the first time rebels have seized a train in the area. In March 2006 they seized a train in Latehar, also in Jharkhand, taking many hostages - but freed them 12 hours later.

Jharkhand is rich in minerals and forest resources, but its people are among the poorest in India. The rebels have a presence in 18 of the state`s 22 districts.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of poor peasants and landless workers.


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