PATNA, India – India has ordered the deportation of 10 French citizens who police say illegally worked with an Indian advocacy group accused of supporting Maoist rebels, officials said Monday.
It was the second time in a matter of months that India has deported foreign citizens working for local non-governmental organizations. In February, police expelled a German tourist for helping to raise funds for anti-nuclear activists in southern India.
The French nationals violated their tourist visas by working for Ekta Parishad, or Unity Forum, a group in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, said police Deputy Inspector General Paras Nath.
The 10 people — four men and six women — were detained Saturday in a densely forested area of Bihar where Ekta Parishad had organized a meeting of local farmers.
Police said Ekta Parishad supports the cause of Maoist rebels. The group says it works to protect the land and water rights of the poor but denies it has ties to the rebels, who have kidnapped several officials and killed dozens of security personnel in recent years.
"We have no links with the Maoists whatsoever. Ekta Parishad is working for people's right to land, forests and water. We are a people's movement," said Aneesh Thillenkery, national advocacy coordinator.
The French citizens were farm activists in their own country who came to India to meet with the leader of Ekta Parishad, P.V. Rajagopal, who is leading a movement to restore land rights to the people, Thillenkery said.
The Maoist rebels, who say they are inspired by the late Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, are demanding land and jobs for impoverished tribal communities.
The French citizens were flown to New Delhi on Monday and will be deported, Nath said.
The French Embassy in New Delhi said it would not comment.
In the past month, the rebels have kidnapped two Italians, a state lawmaker in neighboring Orissa state and a district official in Chattisgarh state. They have demanded the release of dozens of their imprisoned comrades.
The Italians were freed after some prisoners were released. The lawmaker and the official are presumed to still be in rebel custody while the government considers the Maoists' demands.
The rebels are spread across 20 of India's 28 states. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called them the country's biggest internal threat.
(This version CORRECTS in paragraph 2 that German was expelled in February.)