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Rights groups blame state government for Nandigram violence

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The communist government of West Bengal government conspired with party workers accused of killing and raping villagers opposed to selling land for an industrial project, global human rights groups said on Tuesday.

Paramilitary soldiers are seen patrol Nandigram village in this November 21, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Parth Sanyal

“There was a close connivance of district officials, the state government, the state machinery and communist party workers to dictate and determine the course of events,” said Mukul Sharma of Amnesty International’s Indian unit.

“People who abused, who attacked, who took recourse to violence to establish their political dominance were neither booked nor arrested by state agencies,” he told a news conference.

Nandigram, a cluster of villages in West Bengal, has been the flashpoint of a conflict between mostly poor farmers and the state government since early 2007 over the refusal of the villagers to sell their land for a chemicals industry complex.

Nearly three dozen people are known to have been killed, and police have found several unmarked graves in the area. Villagers say the toll could be much higher as people remain missing or deaths could have been concealed.

The state backed down on plans to acquire the land after fierce protests early last year, but police and party workers were still unable to enter the area for months.

Communist party cadres returned in force in November to violently reclaim control of the area. At least six people died and thousands were displaced in that round of clashes.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said authorities in West Bengal were aware party workers were collecting arms in the Nandigram area ahead of the November clashes but failed to do anything to stop it.

The West Bengal government, the world’s longest serving democratically elected communist regime, has denied complicity and says party workers were merely returning home in November.

But an investigation by the rights groups said the state government had failed to protect the people of Nandigram and to prosecute those accused of violent attacks, including rape and beatings, harassment and making threats.

“The report concludes that the inaction of the West Bengal state government, including tacit acceptance of the violent operations of the armed supporters ... resulted in serious human rights abuses,” a joint statement from the groups said.

It called for an independent and impartial inquiry of the trouble at Nandigram and said the findings should be acted upon within two or three months.

Failure to do so could trigger fresh trouble in the state as the chemicals project was being shifted to a new location and victims of violence in Nandigram would be seen as not having got justice, Sharma said.