Locals fear the proposed $760m project will trigger radiation-related diseases It's an unequal battle in a remote region - tribespeople armed with bows, arrows and swords pitted against the might of state-run Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL), which feeds the country's controversial nuclear weapons development programme and national atomic power plants. The battleground is Domiasiat, the abode of more than 100,000 people from the Khasi tribe in the northeastern state of Meghalaya. Formerly headhunters who were converted to Christianity by western missionaries in the 19th century, they still eke out a living from farming and fishing. But they are doing so atop the richest near-surface uranium deposits in India, deposits UCIL planned to dig up to feed the country's nuclear programmes. But fearing radiation-related deaths and diseases like cancer, leukaemia, tuberculosis, congenital deformities, impotency and infertility, local people have mounted a fierce campaign to block the ambitious 4.5 billion rupee (HK$760 million) uranium project, angering Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's government. And quite unexpectedly, the aggressive campaign by indigenous people is paying off; their resistance has virtually stopped the powerful UCIL. The deadlock has become an issue of power for federal authorities as armed tribespeople are refusing to yield a centimetre without bloodshed. 'Some people do not want India to progress,' UCIL chairman Raminder Gupta said last month. 'Otherwise, why are they chasing UCIL staff with bows and arrows and threatening to kill them?' There are about 10,000 tonnes of top-quality uranium in Domiasiat - roughly 16 per cent of India's uranium reserves. Mr Gupta's repeated assurances to provide protection from radioactive contamination, healthcare facilities and jobs to local youth have been rejected by the Meghalaya Peoples' Human Rights Council, an umbrella organisation of tribal councils, church leaders, students' bodies, non-governmental organisations and political parties, spearheading the aggressive campaign against uranium mining in the underdeveloped area. 'It's not simply a question of the rehabilitation of 30,000 Khasis who will be displaced if mining starts', said local legislator Hopingstone Lyngdoh. 'It is a question of life and death for us. New Delhi cannot play with the lives of our people just because India wants our uranium. Our people come first and India comes after that,' he said. With politically backed tribespeople digging in for a long haul - and the state government's refusal to use force against protesters - even Mr Gupta is not sure if the uranium deposits will be exploited. Mr Lyngdoh said that Khasis drew their lessons from the hellish experience of poor tribespeople in Jadugoda since UCIL started digging in their homeland. According to Jadugoda Organisation for Human Rights activists, radiation has killed more than 200 men, women and children and caused large-scale radiation sickness among tens of thousands of poor tribespeople living in the shadow of the Jadugoda mines.