CALCUTTA, India – CALCUTTA, India (AP) — Maoist rebels in eastern India shot dead four villagers linked to a governing party and attacked a police station killing two policemen, officials said Monday.
The attacks came after the rebels — described by the prime minister as India's biggest internal security threat — called a 48-hour general strike on Sunday in seven eastern states.
The guerrillas, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting the government in eastern India for more than four decades, demanding land and jobs for the poor. Their presence has spread as they have tapped into anger among rural dwellers left out of India's economic gains.
In West Bengal state late Sunday, guerrillas ordered four men out of their homes and then shot them dead in Jhargram village before fleeing, said police official Surojit Kar Purkayastha. The victims were supporters of the state's ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), he said.
In neighboring Jharkhand state, scores of armed rebels attacked a police station in Bhejji village early Monday, killing two policemen, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
On Sunday, the rebels called their general strike and blew up a three-foot (one-meter) section of railway track that disrupted train services across the region, said police official R.K. Mallick in nearby Chattisgarh state.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said his government would deal firmly with the rebels who resort to violence but would also step up development programs in the districts worst hit by rebel attacks.
"We have to accelerate our development efforts ... and make our administrative machinery more sensitive and responsive to local concerns," Singh told a meeting of top army commanders.
The rebels are now present in 20 of India's 28 states and have an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to the Home Ministry.