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Sukma encounter toll touches 22; Shah, Bhagel cut short poll campaigns

A jawan checks for possible IEDs on the body of a fallen colleague following the attack on them by Naxals in the forests near Bijapur, in Chhattisgarh on Saturday. Photo: Special Arrangement  

A day after the encounter between central paramilitary forces and Maoists in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma, bodies of 22 personnel were recovered on Sunday; one commando was still missing, Chattisgarh police said. Thirty-one others were injured. Some jawans may have died due to excessive bleeding, a police officer said. On reports that a jawan's body may have been mutilated, the officer said, “there was intense firing from both sides and it is possible that the arms were blown up due to the impact, we can say anything conclusively after the postmortem is conducted.”

The bodies could be retrieved only close to 24 hours after the attack at noon on Saturday.

Also read: Befitting reply to Chattisgarh Naxal attack will be given at appropriate time, says Amit Shah

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who were both campaigning for Assam Assembly elections, returned to Raipur and New Delhi respectively on Sunday evening as the toll rose.

K. Vijay Kumar, Senior Security Advisor, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that for the past two weeks the Maoists were trying to disrupt the construction of a road near Silger-Jagargunda.

“The security forces and the Maoists were engaged in a cat and mouse game for the past two weeks as the Maoists were trying to disrupt a road construction. The forces tactically withdrew some operations and we were waiting for them, this is where (Tarrem, site of encounter) the Maoists had mobilised on Saturday,” Mr. Kumar told  The Hindu.

The official added that Tarrem in Sukma, where the encounter took place is one of the core areas of the Maoists and the joint forces had gone for an area-domination exercise.

Also read: Maoist attack: Amit Shah cuts short Assam poll campaign

A joint team of Chhattisgarh Police comprising the District Reserve Guard (DRG) and Special Task Force (STF) along with various teams of Central Reserve Police Force had proceeded for a combing operation in south Bastar on Friday night. In the recent past, the CRPF has opened 18 new security camps in South Bastar, including one at Minpa where 15 CRPF jawans were killed in an ambush on March 22 last year.

Mr. Kumar said the Maoists had used “improvised grenades” to attack the forces.

He denied that the security forces were moving in large numbers that could have exposed them to the Maoists. 

 “The security forces were in appropriate numbers; it is too simplistic to say [that they were in large number], there were tactical gaps between them, they had maintained appropriate offensive and defensive postures ... they were spread in four groups -- around 130 each from four directions. Improvised grenades were used by the Maoists, It was a combing operation, the radius of operation was around 30 kilometre, they were completely independent teams,” Mr. Kumar said.

Also read: Naxal killed in encounter with security forces in Chhattisgarh

He added, “There were no specific inputs but these formations (of Maoists) were wanting to hit the security forces for quite some time...for two weeks they were trying to do some mischief on Silged-Jagargunda road that was under construction. The road jeopardises their existence… it has cut away their territory,” he said.

The officer denied that there was a delay in retrieving the bodies.

“By the time the haze of combat subsided, the forces waited for an opportune time ... therefore they waited, they went again in the morning. Removal of bodies takes time, as Maoists are capable of putting bombs in bodies, they [retrieval teams] have to be doubly sure,” he said.

Chhattisgarh police said in a statement that the teams were dispatched to Tarrem as they wanted to corner People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) chief Hidma who was said to be in the area.

Also read: Who is Maoist leader Hidma?

Hidma heads the PLGA Battalion 1, one of the most lethally armed and trained unit of the Maoists active in southern Chhattisgarh.

Hidma is said to be involved in one of the worst attacks on security personnel in 2010 when 76 CRPF jawans were killed at Tadmetla in Dantewada district. His involvement is also suspected in the March 2017 incident when 12 CRPF jawans were ambushed as they had gone to secure a road-construction party near Bhejji in Sukma.

Police said at least 12 Maoists were also killed in the encounter but the body of only a woman identified as Mandvi Vanoja could be recovered. “Villagers witnessed Maoists taking away the bodies in tractors,” the statement by Chhattisgarh police said.

MHA had recently sanctioned five battalions (around 5,000 central forces) for South Bastar.

“The proposal was stuck for two years, but on the request of the Chief Minister and due to the Union Home Minister’s intervention it was sanctioned. The men have been trained and are getting inducted,” Mr. Kumar said.

The deceased personnel included seven from the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action unit (CoBRA) of the CRPF, a unit specially trained for operations in LWE areas and 15 from the Chattisgarh Police. One CoBRA commando Rakeshwar Singh Minhas is still missing.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 2:28:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/sukma-encounter-toll-rises-as-more-bodies-of-more-security-personnel-are-recovered-on-april-4/article34236487.ece

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