Three persons, including a founder member of the district unit of the erstwhile People’s War Group (PWG), were killed in separate incidents in the areas adjoining Lalgarh in West Bengal’s Paschim Medinipur district since Saturday night.

Asit Sarkar, who became a senior district leader of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) after the outfit was formed following the merger of the PWG with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Septmber 2004, was shot dead by unidentified persons at Garbeta, District Superintendent of Police Manoj Verma told The Hindu over telephone.

Asit Sarkar had been earlier arrested in 2004, but was later released. Investigations into the murder are on, Mr. Verma added.

In another incident, Manik Mandi (70) and his nephew Pagan Mandi (35) were killed by suspected Maoists. Their bodies were found in the morning.

Manik Mandi was a leader of a local resistance group which reportedly has the backing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and has been active against Maoists in the area.

Commenting on the progress of the joint operation by security forces that was launched on June 18 to flush out Maoists from the area, Mr. Verma said, “now the operations are progressing smoothly and the situation has improved in many parts of the affected areas.”

There have been nearly 170 arrests so far, of which about 60 were armed cadres of the Maoists, Mr. Verma said. “We have been able to restrict the movement of armed cadres in the area, which is an achievement.”

Since the operations began, there have been 54 deaths , most of them of CPI (M) supporters. However, on some occasions the police have met with opposition from the villagers in the course of the operation. On Sunday, the police lathi-charged and arrested 21 persons including 10 women during a raid at Badghora, Mr. Verma said.