17 policemen killed in Chhattisgarh encounter

An encounter broke out between Chhattisgarh police and Maoists in Sukma district late on March 21

March 22, 2020 05:36 pm | Updated 09:12 pm IST - New Delhi

A file picture of CRPF personnel patrolling in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh.

A file picture of CRPF personnel patrolling in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh.

Seventeen members of a police patrol were killed in an ambush by Maoists in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma on March 21.

Around 350 Maoists including women cadres opened fire on a police patrol team comprising a hundred personnel on March 21 afternoon. The operation lasted five hours and the bodies of the 17 policemen could be retrieved after 12-14 hours on March 22.

Chhattisgarh Director General of Police D.M. Awasthi told The Hindu that most policemen who were presumed to be missing after the encounter, were either killed at the spot or died due to “loss of blood” due to gunshot injuries. He said 15 others were injured, out of which two are critical. At least 14 sophisticated weapons used by the police were taken away by the Maoists.

Mr. Awasthi said the area where the attack took place is dominated by the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) Battalion No. 1, one of the most lethally armed and trained unit of the Maoists active in southern Chhattisgarh. It is the same group led by Hidma that killed 25 CRPR personnel in April 2017.

Hidma has managed to give a slip to the security agencies for over a decade now and they don’t even have his recent photograph, except grainy images dating back to 2007.

Mr. Awasthi said a team of around 500 policemen comprising the District Reserve Guard (DRG) and the Special Task Force (STF) had gone to Elmagunda in the deep forests of Sukma on March 20 on receipt of information that a large group of Maoists had assembled there. Police received information that the top Maoists leaders had congregated to plan attacks at two police camps in one of the worst Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas.

Mr. Awasthi said when the police teams could not find anything at the particular location, they decided to return. “One police party was sent from Chintagufa camp and the other half from Burkapal. While returning, the two teams dispersed towards their respective locations. While one of the teams was 5-6 km away from their camp, the Maoists opened fire. DRG and STF fought fierce battle with Maoists for five hours. There were more than 350 Maoists including women,” Mr. Awasthi said.

He said while chasing them, the police reached an open area where Maoists had taken position at a height and an exchange of fire ensued. “Many Maoists had been killed too but no bodies could be recovered as they drag the bodies along. Many jawans were injured and they tried to crawl to safety, but they either died at the spot or died due to loss of blood,” he said.

The DGP said before the main encounter started, there were two more instances of exchange of fire with the Maoists with the other team. “It could have been diversionary act to stop the other police personnel from reaching main encounter site,” he said. The two police teams were 3-4 km apart.

“The police team was barely two hours away from their camp when they came under attack….there was heavy firing, the police fought valiantly,” he said.

He said the operation ended at 5.30 p.m. on Saturday and while the teams were retreating they carried out a headcount. “We found in the night that 17 people were missing...one team remained in the jungle to trace them. Sunday morning a massive search operation was launched…the Maoists were still there and we managed to retrieve the bodies,” he said.

“Many Maoist leaders have been killed and many are injured, we will get the specific information in few days. This is an area dominated by PLGA unit led by Hidma. Generally they are around 150 cadres, but during the attack around 350 armed men and women were there, which means many come from other areas” he said.

He said since 2017, the Maoists have suffered huge losses as police started moving in the core areas. “In the past three years, we have opened 68 camps for the police,” he said.

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