Maoists used villagers as “human shields” when they attacked CRPF personnel in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on Monday, a senior Home Ministry official said on Monday. Twenty-five CRPF jawans were killed in the ambush, and seven critically injured.
Sudhir Sonwale, Assistant Commandant of the CRPF posted near the encounter site, told The Hindu that the body of at least one jawan had been mutilated by the Maoists. The CRPF team, which came under attack, was providing protection to workers and contractors engaged in constructing a 5.5 km road stretch near Burkapal and had been following a routine for the past few days. The attack took place on a main road, around 12.30 p.m.
A senior CRPF official said the Maoists were monitoring the movement of the CRPF personnel and they turned out to be “sitting ducks.”
On Monday, the Maoists, pretending to be villagers, pushed cattle near the road construction site. As per a precise plan, they struck when some of the jawans broke for lunch.
A CRPF camp is located barely 2.5 km away and the entire stretch is picketed. Describing it as an “act of desperation,” the official said the Maoists “used all that they had” in the attack and sprayed bullets on the jawans. “There were more than 90 personnel providing cover to the workers. They took turns to have lunch. They were attacked when one group sat down for lunch. There were 40 civilians working at the site, and the jawans ensured that no harm was done to them,” he said.
Former CRPF DG K. Durga Prasad who retired on February 28, said, “This (providing cover) is something they had been doing on a daily basis. It is for anybody to see the everyday movement. Road construction is fraught with danger. Why does it take five years to construct a road? The government has to think differently and we have to adopt new technologies.”
The Maoists also looted a huge assortment of weapons and ammunition belonging to the jawans. This included 12 AK-47 rifles, five of them fitted with under barrel grenade launchers (UBGLs), five INSAS machine guns and rifles, more than 2,800 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 600 rounds of INSAS ammunition, 22 bullet-proof jackets, five wireless sets, two binoculars and a metal detector.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited State capital Raipur and met the injured jawans in the hospital. “The sacrifice of our brave jawans will not go in vain. A meeting of all Maoist-affected States will be held on May 8 to look at ways of rooting out Left Wing Extremism. We will review the strategy [of dealing with Naxailtes] and if necessary we will revisit it,” Mr. Singh told reporters in Raipur after paying homage to the CRPF personnel killed in the ambush.
Mr. Singh said the Maoists were seeking to destabilise development in the State and using tribals as fodder. “They are being used as human shields. It was an act of cowardice and desperation and a cold-blooded murder,” he said.
Asked by a reporter at the press conference if the attack indicated an “intelligence failure”, Mr. Singh said, “This is not the time for a blame game.”
On why a full-time director general of the CRPF had not been appointed, he said, “We don’t have a dearth of leadership...whenever needed we will appoint a senior officer here.”
A senior Home Ministry official ruled out “Army intervention” and said that Left Wing Extremism (LWE) was a “law and order” problem and it ought to be handled by “civilian forces.”