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IAF to get back choppers on UN duty

In yet another step that appears aimed at curbing the Maoists, the Indian Air Force has redoubled its effort to get back 18 multi-utility helicopters currently deployed in UN missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rahul Singh & Aloke Tikku reports.No end to Red Terror

delhi Updated: Jul 02, 2010 08:00 IST
Rahul Singh & Aloke Tikku

In yet another step that appears aimed at curbing the Maoists, the Indian Air Force has redoubled its effort to get back 18 multi-utility helicopters currently deployed in United Nations missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Security forces indicated more IAF helicopters could be pressed into service in Maoist dominated areas.

Following the latest Naxal massacre of 27 CRPF men in Chhattisgarh's Narayanpuri district, the home ministry and state government are also taking fresh stock of the deployment pattern of security forces in the region.

So anxious is the IAF to get the helicopters back, that, sources said, if the UN is unwilling to relinquish them right away, India may use an emergency clause in its contract with the UN that allows it to unilaterally take back the MI-17 choppers, after giving a 45-day notice.

The defence ministry has already requested the ministry of external affairs last month not to renew its commitment on the helicopters with the UN.

IAF sources said they expect the first set of helicopters to be released between July and September. But there are some that are committed to various UN operations in the DRC till mid-2011, for which the emergency clause may be used.

While there are demands from several sections of the defence establishment for the helicopters, anti Maoist operations will get priority, the sources added.

Even though the army has not yet been inducted directly into the war against the Maoists, the helicopters can perform many supplementary functions.

A larger number of choppers would enable the government to maintain the supply chain for the personnel in camps located deep in the jungles, without having to drive through Naxal-infested areas.

"In such high risk areas, the idea is to reduce exposure to the Maoists," an official said.

A formal decision on the helicopters will be announced after the Cabinet Committee on Security takes a decision on the home ministry's revised anti-Naxal strategy at its next meeting. Currently the nine Naxal infested states have only six helicopters between them.

As for redeployment, a ministry official said, decisions had been taken.

"About 10-12 camps in Chhattisgarh will be affected," he said. The idea was to reduce the distances between camps to form a security grid and strengthen camps.