Senior police officials have said nine security personnel from the CRPF and the Jharkhand Jaguars special task force may have been killed in the encounter with Maoists in Latehar district, 110 km from Ranchi, on Monday.

On Tuesday afternoon, two villagers helping the CRPF retrieve the bodies of the fallen personnel were killed and one was severely injured when the Maoists triggered a landmine blast.

“We suspect nine of our men could be dead, though two are still missing; 15 personnel are injured and have been sent to hospitals in Ranchi. Two villagers were killed when they were trying to help us search and carry back the bodies. Maoists are using the security personnel’s dead bodies as traps,” said Jharkhand Director General of Police G.S. Rath.

Senior police officials confirmed that the operation against the Maoists was going on since December 13 in the Katiya forest in Latehar. “We had information that a huge congregation of Maoists is going on in the forests here and so an operation has been on since then with men from CRPF Battalions 112 and 134 and Jharkhand Jaguars,” said Latehar Superintendent of Police Kranti Kumar.

“Four personnel were untraced since yesterday [Monday]. So a search party, including 50-60 villagers went into the forest and were looking for the bodies. A landmine blast was triggered when they tried to lift the body. The civilian who was injured was airlifted to a hospital,” he said. According to Mr. Kumar, five Maoists are suspected to have been killed in the encounter and four injured.

Meanwhile, senior police officials have reportedly asked civil society groups to appeal to the Maoists to hand over the two bodies. “IG Rezi Dungdung contacted me about this in the afternoon. I appeal to [the] Maoists to hand over the bodies,” said social activist and the former secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties Shashi Bhushan Pathak in Ranchi.