ANDHRA PRADESH

`Encounter' leaves officials cold

HYDERABAD, OCT. 11. The first public encounter between underground naxalite leaders and Government officials near Dornala in Prakasam district this morning appears to have left the latter, especially police officials, in utter confusion as to what they were expected to do.

Confusion all around

Were they supposed to frisk the naxalites? Should their baggage be checked ? Should someone note down the names of all those accompanying the five leaders? There were many questions, but no answers. Desperate phone calls to the State capital did not seem to have provided any answers. So they let the naxalite leaders to proceed to Guthikonda Bilam in Guntur district to address a public meeting.

But senior bureaucrats at Hyderabad were ill at ease. The Government was taking total responsibility for the safety of the naxalite leaders and many believed that the PW emissaries had assured the Government that the leaders and their protective team, consisting of about three dozen people would not come out armed.

As the naxalite convoy accompanied by a score of media vehicles proceeded towards Guthikonda, there was more confusion. Someone had called and complained to a Minister that people with weapons were seen moving on the route the naxal leaders were to take. The Government had to be assured that no policeman was moving with weapons in plainclothes on the route.

Word kept

Even for that matter, the Government was `requested' a day before that there should not be any combing operation or presence of policemen on the route between Dornala and Srisailam. It was ensured that not a single police party was sent even by mistake on the route. The Government knew that the PW and Janashakti leaders would emerge from the Nallamala forest on this route. And they did at Chinna Arutla village as video cameras whirred, flashguns popped and scores of journalists scribbled notes.

The PW State Committee secretary, Ramakrishna, and four others walked out after `ceremoniously' handing over their Kalashnikovs to their comrades for safe custody till their return.

Back in Hyderabad, the city police top brass was busy making security arrangements for the `State guests' expected to arrive here on Tuesday. A mini-control room was to be set up at Manjira guesthouse. Since the State had taken responsibility of protection, it would have to take care of not only the top five leaders but also their protection team. Trained personnel from the security wing were being summoned and briefed about the threat perception and the precautions to be taken.

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