Twenty-four members of the banned CPI (Maoist) were killed in an encounter with a combined team of the Andhra Pradesh and Odisha police near Jantri in Malkangiri district of Odisha, a few km away from the border with Andhra Pradesh, in the early hours of Monday. This is the highest casualty suffered by the Maoist party in this area.
Speaking to The Hindu Malkangiri Superintendent of Police (SP) Mitrabhanu Mohapatra confirmed the death of 24 Maoists in the joint anti-Maoist operation of both States. The deceased included seven female and 17 male Naxalites.
“As the place where the encounter took place is too remote and is reachable by road from through Andhra Pradesh, the bodies are to be airlifted by helicopter to Malkangiri,” he pointed out. The death toll may increase further as the search operation was still on and several other injured Maoists had escaped into the dense jungle.
“We had received intelligence reports that a major training camp of Maoists was on in the area. Based on this information, Greyhound commandos of Andhra Pradesh and armed forces of the Odisha police took up this joint operation,” said Mr Mohapatra.
Superintendent of Police Rahul Dev Sharma told The Hindu that a few top leaders of the Maoist party might be among the dead, but it would take some time to confirm the same. Two constables were injured in the encounter.
Four AK-47 rifles, three self-loading rifles (SLR), and some other guns were among the goods seized from the spot of encounter.
According to police sources, the exchange of fire occurred at Bejing jungle between Panasput and Ramgarh of this cut-off area. The bodies of the Maoists are likely to be shifted to Chitrakonda in Odisha on the AP border for post mortem.
“The exchange of fire occurred near Balimela reservoir in Odisha,” Director General of Police N. Sambasiva Rao, told The Hindu . A combing police party from the two States noticed the Maoists moving in forests in Malkanagiri area and the exchange of fire erupted, he said.
“We suspect that Maoists of Odisha and AP assembled in forests for a plenary, as many weapons were seized from the spot. Some top Maoist leaders were killed and a few most wanted extremists escaped from the scene. Police can give exact number of deaths later,” said Mr. Rao. The injured Greyhounds constables are being shifted to King George Hospital in Visakhapatnam by helicopters.
“We have intensified combing in the Andhra-Odisha border forests. The injured constables are out of danger,” the DGP said.
It is suspected that Uday, a top Maoist of Odisha, was among those killed in the operation. But it has not been confirmed. He had reward of Rs. 2 lakh on his head. As per the Malkangiri district police, search operation was on in the area and extra force was being sent to the area to intensify the combing operation.
Basing on intelligence reports that a group of around 100 Maoists had gathered in this remote area of Malkangiri district, the joint operation was planned up by the Odisha and Andhra Pradesh police. The Maoist group was part of Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC), led by Ramkrishna alias RK. He was reportedly among those present and he reportedly escaped. It is also suspected that RK’s son was killed during this encounter
Second major encounter
This is the second major encounter and the biggest in Malkangiri district. It is also one of the major incidents on the Andhra-Odisha border area. Thirteen Maoists were killed in an encounter with the police in September 2013 in Podia block in Malkangiri district.
This operation is a major success for security forces, as this district happens to be a major transit zone of Maoists and it borders naxalite-infested areas of Andhra and Chhatisgarh. During the past one year, the strength of Maoists and their support base in Malkangiri had dwindled due to surrender of hundreds of Maoist supporters, including militias. It is suspected that the Maoists had gathered up in a cut-off area of Malkangiri district to re-strengthen their base.
Chitrakonda Reservoir a Maoist stronghold
On October 1, Maoists hijacked boats meant for public transport across the Chitrakonda Reservoir to force the inhabitants of the cut-off area of the reservoir to travel to a meeting organised by extremists at Jantri village to re-strengthen their dwindling base.
The Chitrakonda Reservoir happens to be a major Maoist stronghold due to its inaccessibility. Maoist opposition has delayed the construction of the Gurupriya Bridge that could provide direct road communication to over 150 villages in this cut-off area of the reservoir.
Construction of the bridge is in full swing now under tight security and Maoists are much worried about it and under the leadership of RK are trying hard to reclaim their clout of terror in the area and continue to use it as safe transit zone.
On June 29, 2008, Maoists ambushed a boat carrying Greyhound jawans in the reservoir at Alampaka. Thirty eight persons, including 35 Greyhound jawans from Andhra Pradesh, died in this attack.
(With inputs from Rajulapudi Srinivas, Devesh Pandey)