PATNA, India (AP) — A top state official said Saturday that efforts were underway to secure the release of around 250 villagers being held by Maoist rebels protesting the construction of a bridge in central India, a common tactic used by the insurgents.
The rebels rounded up the villagers in Chhattisgarh state's Sukma district late Friday and are holding them in nearby forests, said the state's chief minister, Raman Singh.
In the past, the rebels have held villagers as a negotiating tactic to get a state to concede to their demands. They usually release the villagers unharmed once their demands are met.
"This happens routinely. They will let the villagers go in a day or two," said S.R.P. Kalluri, inspector general of police in Sukma.
Singh told reporters that officials were negotiating with the rebels and expressed confidence that the villagers would be released soon.
The incident embarrassed Singh's government as it occurred on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Chhattisgarh.
Police said the incident was unrelated to Modi's visit and was to stop villagers from working at the bridge construction site.
The government has been trying to improve road connectivity in the dense jungles of Chhattisgarh because the poor roads hinder security forces from going after the rebels.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades in central and eastern India, staging hit-and-run attacks against authorities. They demand a greater share of wealth from the area's natural resources and more jobs for farmers and the poor.
Modi, who visited adjoining Dantewada district on his visit to the state, said there was no place for violence in a democracy.
"Guns cannot bring development," he said at an event in Raipur, the state capital.
Modi said creating jobs for young people and the development of economically backward areas were at the core of his government's policies.
"There is no future for violence. The future is only of peaceful means," he said.
The rebels, who have been called India's biggest internal security threat, operate in 20 of India's 28 states and have thousands of fighters, according to the Home Ministry.