India Gov't Delays Withdrawal of Security Forces

The Government of India has agreed to keep its Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Kandhamal district, where it will continue to protect Christians taking refuge in relief camps there.

After threatening to withdraw the last group of paramilitary security personnel at the beginning of June, the Central Government received concerns from Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and others who felt the pullout would be premature.

Heeding to the pleas, the government announced on Monday it will leave some troops there until the end of June.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said it would retain five of the ten CRPF companies, bringing much relief to the State Government that last week pleaded to Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram to continue the deployment of forces in the hot spot district until victims return to their homes and complete normalcy is restored.

Last August, Hindu extremists attacked Christians in Kandhamal in Orissa state, killing dozens, destroying homes and churches, and forcing tens of thousands to find refuge in relief camps and elsewhere. The violence was triggered by the murder of a Hindu fundamentalist leader. Christians were blamed for the killing although Maoists claimed responsibility.

At least 4,000 security personnel were deployed in Kandhamal following the communal violence. Troops have been withdrawn in phases over the past few months as violence has died down. Only 500 are reportedly left. The state of Orissa is replacing the troops with its own police personnel.

Naveen had pleaded with the government to have the forces remain for the next three months, keeping in mind the adequate security Christians need during the rebuilding of houses and churches in the communally sensitive district.

The Central Government, however, reportedly refused to heed the state's plea, and agreed to retain some personnel only after Naveen had a telephonic conversation with P. Chidambaram.

After the last batch of CRPF leaves at the end of June, officials say 16 companies of state police, including Orissa Special Armed Police, would be positioned in sensitive areas.