Repeated sighting of armed men in tribal colonies in Malabar

Suspected Maoists who have repeatedly appeared armed in tribal colonies in the forested areas of North Kerala since mid-2013 could be operating out of safe houses in nearby villages or towns, according to State Police Special Branch officials.

They said their assumption was based on an analysis of the location, time, and date of the appearances of a six-member squad in forest settlements in Kozhikode, Kannur, and Wayanad.

“Most of the tribal colonies the squad had visited on the pretext of seeking provisions were near roads or population centres. It was unlikely the group, which also included two women activists, had used forest routes to gain access to these localities. So far the police have found no evidence to suggest that the squad had pitched their camp inside the jungle,” an intelligence official said.

The group, which openly carried firearms and wore military fatigues, had distributed pamphlets calling for an armed uprising against the State.

“Their recurrent appearance in the colonies seemed to be a tactic to wear the police out and blunt its response. The Maoists also coveted publicity for their political ends,” he said.

The armed squad, more seriously, posed a threat to forest officials, mostly unarmed guards and watchers who routinely patrolled the jungle.

On July 27, 2013, three forest guards had reported that an armed group wearing military uniforms had fired a warning shot on spotting them at the Meppadi Adivasi colony near the Chembra peak in Wayanad district.

On January 25 this year, forest watchers reported the sighting of a similar group near the Manadi tribal colony in the Kunjoom forest station limits.

Forest guards again spotted the group near the Kombara Adivasi colony on February 6, 2014. Wildlife enforcers said they suspected that the forest fire which ravaged 100 acres of desiccated undergrowth at Mandamala in Wayanad on February 10, 2014, was the handiwork of Maoists.

Forest Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan told The Hindu that tackling Maoist presence was primarily a policing issue. The Forest Department’s role was limited to supporting the police. The security of forest officials was a matter of serious concern. He said he had recently attended a top-level meeting to address the issue. The Chief Minister and the Home Minister were also present.

Senior police officers said the use of intrusion detection devices such as infra-red and heat triggered camera traps to detect the presence of “armed non-State actors” in the State’s forests were contemplated, but the effectiveness of such surveillance devices in a jungle environment was questionable.

The State police, on its part, wanted to avoid a fire-fight with the Maoists. But they were determined to deny the squad a base in Kerala.

The government has contemplated various options, including long-term deployment of Central paramilitary forces experienced in combating Maoists and extending the neighbourhood watch scheme to forest settlements. It has also made a budgetary allocation for raising a commando battalion for jungle operations.

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