Filipino trainers helping India's rebels
S.N.M. Abdi in New Delhi
The outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is training India's Maoist insurgents to attack cities, according to intelligence sources in both countries. New Delhi is seeking help from Manila to track down the group of Filipino urban warfare experts.
Indian security experts fear that the rural-based Maoists will reach beyond their strongholds to target national and provincial capitals and metropolitan industrial centres after receiving training from the CPP's New People's Army (NPA). Both the CPP and NPA have been labelled terrorist organisations by the United States.
India's Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites, were in the headlines recently after their worst-ever ambush killed 76 Indian troopers in a forest in Chattisgarh last week. Even before the Chattisgarh massacre, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Palaniappan Chidamabaram had described the leftist radicals as the biggest internal security threat to the nation.
Sources in the Intelligence Bureau, India's premier domestic intelligence agency, confirmed reports that Maoists arrested in Gujarat last month had revealed the unexpected role of Filipino trainers and handlers during interrogation. The sources said that officials from the Philippines' National Intelligence Co-ordinating Agency told Indian officers that the Filipino trainers had probably sneaked into India via the Netherlands, where the CPP's exiled founder, Jose Maria Sison, is based.
An Indian intelligence official contrasted the development with the Naxalites' links to Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers. 'Although Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam cadres can easily pass off as Indians, we spotted them a few years ago in some Maoist strongholds in eastern India,' the official said. 'A Filipino would be very conspicuous anywhere in India but none were sighted by our surveillance outfits. So we were rather startled when captured Maoists blurted out about receiving training in urban warfare from Filipino communists.'
The only previously known links between the two communist groups were ideological.
'When Sison, who heads the Netherlands-based International League of People's Struggle, publicly issued a statement in October 2009 demanding the release of Maoists arrested by security forces in West Bengal's restive Lalgarh region, we thought that the global communist platform was extending only moral support to Indian comrades,' the Indian intelligence official said. 'But we were wrong. Now we are convinced that there is a much deeper and multi-dimensional nexus between the Maoists and the Philippines' underground communists.'
Confirming that New Delhi had sought help from Manila, Pedro Cabuay, director general of the Philippine intelligence agency, told media there: 'It is not only in India that we are monitoring Filipino communist cadres, but also in other Southeast Asian countries. We tracked a few to Thailand.'
Just before the Gujarat arrests, which were said to have unearthed information about the purported Filipino trainers, one of India's top Maoist leaders, Venkateswar Reddy, was arrested in Calcutta. Media reports said that Reddy was the first senior Maoist to mention the supposed Filipino connection. He told interrogators that fellow Maoist Khobad Gandhy, who was arrested in September, had visited the Phillipines to forge ties with the CPP.
Reddy said a decision to seek the help of overseas communist outfits was taken at the Maoists' ninth party congress, held inside Orissa's Dandakaranya forest in 2007.
The Home Ministry says that Maoists have a presence in at least 16 of India's 28 states, although several analysts say there probably aren't more than 150,000 Maoist supporters in the country of 1.2 billion.