Top rebel leader believed killed during the six-hour encounter in West Bengal forest

At least eight Maoists, including three women, were killed in an encounter when security force personnel raided a forest hideout in the Salboni block of West Bengal's Paschim Medinipur district early on Wednesday.

Director-General of Police Bhupinder Singh said here that though only eight bodies were recovered, “we have unconfirmed reports of another four Maoists killed.”

It is suspected that the rebels carried away four bodies while fleeing, he added.

Superintendent of Police Manoj Kumar Verma claimed that it was one of the most successful operations in the region since the crackdown on the Maoists began a year ago.

There was no casualty among the security forces.

The security personnel arrested an injured Maoist and recovered a huge cache of firearms, explosives, landmines and Maoist literature.

According to Mr. Singh, both the State police force and commandos of the Central Reserve Police Force's Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) surrounded a Maoist camp in the Ranja forest following a tip-off. “The rebels opened fire on the forces and the latter retaliated. A gun battle ensued and continued for almost six hours following which the remaining Maoists fled the spot,” he said.

The police are yet to establish the identity of the arrested Maoist.

Police sources said that five of the eight Maoists killed were been identified as Arjun (a close associate of rebel leaders Bikash and Tara), Sagen, Mala, Radha and Lakshmi (who is suspected to have played a major role during the massacre of 24 Eastern Frontier Rifles jawans at Silda on February 15).

Intelligence inputs

The sources said that based on intelligence inputs received from the Jharkhand police, it was suspected that top Maoist leader Akash was also killed during the encounter.

An AK-47 rifle, an SLR rifle, more than 150 rounds of ammunition and four pistols, besides 100 detonators, 30 gelatine sticks, explosives, wires and batteries were recovered.

Mr. Verma said the AK-47 rifle and the SLR rifle were among the several sophisticated weapons looted from the EFR's armoury at Silda on February 15.

According to police sources, the security forces raided the area three days ago also but the Maoists escaped.