In one of the deadliest attacks on security forces, Maoists killed 25 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and injured seven in Sukma district of south Chhattisgarh on Monday. In retaliatory fire, 10 to 12 Maoists were shot dead.
The attack took place when a team of around 100 men, belonging to the 74th battalion of the CRPF, based at the Burkapal camp on the Dornapal-Jagargunda road in south Sukma, was out to provide protection for road construction work in the area.
According to the Anti-Naxal Operations unit of the Chhattisgarh police, the Maoists ambushed the CRPF team at about 12.55 p.m. near Burkapal.
“Firing lasted about three hours but the seven injured jawans were rescued using a bullet proof vehicle when the firing was going on,” said Chhattisgarh’s Director General of Police A.N. Upadhyay.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, who was in New Delhi, immediately rushed back to Raipur and convened an emergency meeting of his Cabinet.
Jawan Sheikh Mohammad, injured in the attack, told reporters in Raipur that over 300 Maoists, including some dressed in “black uniform” were involved in the attack.
According to him, the Maoists first sent some local villagers to check the location of the CRPF team.
“Our unit was on road construction duty. Many villagers were also carrying weapons and women Maoists were also present,” Mr. Sheikh said.
“They were carrying automatic weapons such as AK-47, SLR, and INSAS but we returned fire,”he said.
Mr. Sheikh, who was injured in the legs, claimed that 10 to 12 Maoists were killed in the CRPF retaliation, a claim backed by Mr. Upadhyay and the Chief Minister.
“I shot dead three Maoists,” he said.
A challenge: Rajnath
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the government had taken the attack as a “challenge” and described the incident as “sad and unfortunate.”
This is the second Maoist attack in the last 50 days in Sukma. Twelve CRPF men were killed in March this year near Bhejji village.
The site of Monday’s attack is hardly a few km from Tadmetla, a village where the Maoists had killed 76 CRPF men in 2010.
This area has repeatedly witnessed heavy casualties on the part of the CRPF since 2009.
Monday’s attack was led by Hidma, head of PLGA Battalion 1. The battalion is said to be one of the deadliest armed cadre of the Maoists and during the ambush they carried sophisticated weapons. The group also included many women cadre, an official said.
Hidma is also said to be involved in the Tadmetla attack. On Monday, the CRPF jawans were attacked when they had gone to secure a patch of under-construction road. The jawans, who were more than 90 in number, came under heavy fire from Maoists who had taken position in the thick forests.
An official said the modus operandi was similar to the March 11 incident, when CRPF jawans who had gone to secure a road-construction party were ambushed.
Another official said that several attempts in the past to catch Hidma have yielded no result.
“He always moves around with a large number of men, more than 100 armed cadres and the proximity to the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border has always helped them escape the radar of the security agencies,” said the official.
The CRPF said that it took them more than five hours to locate the bodies of the jawans as the encounter took place in thick forested area. While 11 bodies were retrieved at the scene of encounter, 12 were found after an intense combing operation.
An official said that so far they had not located the body of any killed Maoist cadre.
( With inputs from Vijaita Singh )