Suspected Maoist rebels, called Naxalites, from left to right with covered faces apprehended by the police near Delhi.—AP/File
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NEW DELHI  Human rights abuses by Indian security forces such as torture and extrajudicial killings have helped fuel a Maoist insurgency that has killed thousands, a report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights said on Friday.

India is battling Maoist rebels, also known as 'Naxalites,' in large swathes of the eastern, central and southern countryside, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described as one of the gravest threats to the country's security, according to Reuters.

The report highlights what it says are rights abuses committed on both sides — Maoists acted out 'gross violations of international humanitarian law,' while the response of security forces often proved counter-productive.

'Security responses of the government, whether state or central, have been resulting in human rights violations against local populations; this state violence has been feeding support for Naxalism,' the report, released in New Delhi, said.

Maoist rebels, who number at least 22,000 in India and control some of India's mineral-rich areas, say they are fighting for the rights of the poor and landless.

They often attack and kill police and politicians, blast government buildings and damage railway tracks, in an insurgency that has killed thousands since its inception in the 1960s.

The Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) said the Maoists committed 'violence of extraordinary brutality, including the gouging out of eyes, bludgeoning to death and slitting of throats of those suspected of colluding with the state.'

The state worst hit by Maoist violence is Chhattisgarh, where rebels killed 241 people, including security forces, within a year from January 2008, the report said quoting government data.

The report said security forces and state-sponsored civilian militia in Chhattisgarh 'were responsible for gross human rights violations in the name of counter insurgency operations.'

But government officials defended their action. Pawan Deo, a spokesman for Chhattisgarh police told Reuters 'There is no question of torturing and killing innocent persons by police in the fight against Maoists. Allegations against police forces is part of Maoist propaganda.'

The ACHR report called for a parliamentary debate on an acceptable security response to the Maoist insurgency.

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