South Asia Theater
Indian police detained two members of an Italian navy security team Feb. 19 over the fatal shooting of two fishermen from an Italian oil tanker off the coast of Kerala state four days earlier. Italian officials said the fishing boat behaved aggressively and ignored warning shots. They said they opened fire, assuming they were pirates. India said the fishermen were unarmed. Indian police have opened a murder enquiry into the deaths, while Italy is demanding release of the detained guards. The two have been remanded into judicial custody for 14 days by a local magistrate. The Italian ambassador in Delhi was summoned by the foreign ministry over the shooting. The two countries are at odds on whether the incident took place in waters under India's territorial jurisdiction. Indian Defence Minister AK Antony described the killings as "very serious." The tanker, MV Enrica Lexie, bound for Singapore, is now anchored off the port of Kochi. (The Hindu, Times of India, Feb. 21; BBC News, Feb. 19)
India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is pledging an in-depth investigation after the Feb. 9 killing of controversial fugitive paramilitary leader Kartam Surya in a road ambush by presumed militants of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist)—better known as Naxalites—in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh state. Dubbed the "Scourge of the Maoists," Surya, 29, began his career in counter-insurgency as a "Special Police Officer" in 2005, when the semi-official corps was created. The SPOs are leaders of an irregular anti-guerilla force known as the Salwa Judum, overseen by the official security forces. Surya grew to head his own Salwa Judum militia, the "Surya Group" or "Koya Commandos," which was trained by the Grey Hounds, an elite unit of the state police of Andhra Pradesh (bordering Chhattisgarh on the south). A Chhattisgarh state police honor guard attended his funeral, and state government officials honored him as the "Bastar Tiger," after the southern region of Chhattisgarh where he operated. But rights groups objected to this lionization; petitions filed with India's Supreme Court accuse Judum members and SPOs of over 500 murders, 99 rapes and 103 acts of arson.
Police and supporters of deposed Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed clashed Feb. 8, leading to the death of at least two who were protesting Nasheed's removal from power a day earlier in what is being called a coup d'etat. Clashes have spread beyond the capital of Male to several outlying islands, where protesters are reported to have seized several police stations. The Maldives had its first-ever democratic elections in 2008, bringing former political prisoner Nasheed to power and ending 30 years of rule under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed now charges Gayoom and his supporters instigated street protests that preceded his removal. He said some 20 police and army rebels forced him at gunpoint to resign, which he later did live on TV. The weeks of protests were ostensibly over the detainment of senior criminal court Judge Abdulla Mohamed, who was arrested last month for corruption. But Mohamed was arrested by the military—an unprecedented move—following his ruling to release a government critic. Local media reported hours after Nasheed's removal that Mohamed had been released .
Molajula Koteswar Rao AKA "Kishenji," most-wanted leader of India's Naxalite guerillas, was killed in a gun battle with security forces in the Burisole jungle region of West Midnapore district, West Bengal, authorities said Nov. 24. Sympathizers of the Maoist rebel movement as well as human rights groups immediately questioned the government's version of events, and charged that Kishenji had been illegally executed. Varavara Rao of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committeeo called the slaying a "political murder." The New Power website said, "These fake encounters mask a campaign of targeted assassination." (PTI, Nov. 27; NewPower.org, Nov. 26)
A court in the Indian state of Gujarat on Nov. 10 convicted 31 people of crimes committed during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The accused were convicted of murder, arson and rioting. Charges of criminal conspiracy were dropped by the court. All 31 of the convicted were sentenced to life in prison and required to pay a fine. The court acquitted 42 other defendants. The riots stemmed from anger over the death of 60 Hindus in a fire aboard a train. Violence targeting Muslims lasted three days, leaving more than 1,000 dead. Teesta Setalvad, an activist working on behalf of the riot victims said she welcomed the sentences but expressed disappointment that the investigation team look into a possible conspiracy behind the riots.
At least 11 were killed and 91 injured in a bomb blast outside the Delhi High Court on the morning of Sept. 7. The militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) reportedly claimed responsibility in an e-mail. HUJI leader Ilyas Kashmiri, apparently based in Pakistan's tribal areas where he also headed al-Qaeda's "313 Brigade," repeatedly issued terror threats against India over the past year—but was reported killed in a drone strike in June. US citizen David Headley, who pleaded guilty in a Chicago federal court last year to involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is reported to have told the FBI that Kashmiri introduced him to top contacts in the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service. (IBN, Sept. 8; Times of India, Sept. 7)
Mumbai was hit by three coordinated bomb blasts during the evening rush hour on July 13, killing at least 21 people and injuring over 100, including businessmen from the city's thriving gold and jewellery trade. No organization has claimed responsibility, but authorities say they suspect the Indian Mujahedeen, a terrorist group sworn to avenge the 2002 massacre of hundreds of Muslims in the neighboring state of Gujarat (which has claimed recent attacks in New Delhi, Jaipur and elsewhere). The anniversary of the 2006 Mumbai train blasts that killed more than 180 commuters also fell this week, on July 11.
For more than a month now, large parts of Nepal have been periodically shut down by a series of bandhs, or civil strikes, called by indigenous groups, regional autonomists and former Maoist rebels. In the town of Hetauda, Makwanpur district, a group led by local businessmen on May 31 held a motorcycle rally to protest the protest campaigns which have demanded a halt to all business and traffic. Local bandhs were called there several days in succession by the Matrika Yadav faction of the CPN-Maoist, and the Sanghiya Loktantrik Party and Tamsaling Autonomous Council, two groups demanding greater autonomy for the Tamsaling region. (Himalayan Times, May 25) Two weeks earlier, a coalition of minority ethnicities and indigenous groups staged a coordinated nationwide bandh, shutting roads and markets across the country to demand greater rights as a new constitution is prepared. (Hindustan Times, May 13)