The Chhattisgarh police and the Central Reserve Police Force claim to have killed 20 guerillas of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in two separate incidents in the State’s Sukma and Bijapur districts in the early hours of Friday. But, sources in the State police and inter-faith activist Swami Agnivesh said many of those killed in Bijapur were civilians caught in the crossfire.

Six CRPF troopers were injured in the operation and at least seven suspected Maoists were arrested during the encounter. Swami Agnivesh described the police operation as “cold-blooded murder” and demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident.

The bodies of 17 men and a woman were recovered after the skirmish in Kotaguda panchayat in Bijapur, while the bodies of two men were found after a firefight near Jagargunda in Sukma. “One body was in military green dungarees, the rest were in civilian clothes,” said Bijapur’s Superintendent of Police, Prashant Agarwal, adding the several improvised explosive devices, 303 rifles and muzzle-loading shotguns were retrieved from the encounter site.

“We received specific information that senior Maoist cadres were going to hold a big meeting in the dense forests between Chintalnar, Jagargunda and Basaguda,” said Mr. Agarwal, “Our teams were sent to the spot, where they were fired upon by the Maoist Jan militia members. Six troopers were injured and fired back in retaliation.”

Yet, information from Bijapur-based journalists and inter-faith activist Swami Agnivesh suggests that security forces may have opened fire on a village meeting called by the Maoists.

“This is cold blooded murder,” said Swami Agnivesh, who had previously negotiated with the Maoists for the release of kidnapped police officers in Chhattisgarh. “The police surrounded the village at about 1 am on Friday and opened fire on a meeting of Maoists and civilians. The Maoists also fired back injuring CRPF soldiers.”

The police insisted that their response was commensurate with the danger at hand, pointing out that six CRPF troopers were injured, two of them in a critical condition. “The encounter took place in the dead of night,” said a senior officer speaking on background, “The police were firing in self defence.”s