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Revealed: landmine markings, not origin

Calcutta, Oct. 6: The markings on the landmines discovered in a bus at a terminus in Howrah yesterday are now known, but the shroud of mystery over their origin and ownership has not lifted.

Greenish in colour, the landmines bear these markings — mineapers N M — M 14 (M1) with fuse integral — on one side. The other side has the letters and numbers: ZIT — 10 GF 82, Tobu lot 152: 5/82.

During a routine check, police stumbled on to the landmines in a bag abandoned in an East Midnapore-bound bus minutes before it was to roll out of the terminus for Nandigram. Neighbouring West Midnapore is witnessing a bloody battle between the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government and the People’s War.

The landmines were found a day ahead of the chief minister’s travel to the region — he was at Debra, the seventies’ Naxalite stronghold which is over 80 km from Nandigram, today. Investigators do not see a link. “It was just a coincidence,” said Howrah SP Rajesh Kumar.

As coincidental is the police suspicion that the explosives had been procured by the People’s War, which has been known to use landmines in Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. But what is worrying for the police is that the PW has never used landmines in Bengal. “The mines could well be from Andhra Pradesh,” police director-general D.C. Vajpai said.

“We have reports that the PW unit here, fighting with its back to the wall, is being funded and armed by the unit in Andhra.”

Inspecting army officials have told police investigators that the mines — now with Howrah police — were “anti-personnel” and would explode under a pressure of five to six kilograms.

“We sought the army’s help because it understands landmines,” said home secretary Amit Kiran Deb. “Army experts are investigating the matter in collaboration with our police. I am expecting a report shortly.”

Rajesh Kumar said that from the markings on the explosive casings, it was not clear where they were manufactured. “Army officers who examined the mines told us they were army issues but did not specify whether they were from the Indian army. They could be also from the Pakistan or Bangladesh army,” he said.

Similar to the improvised explosive devices used by militants in Jammu and Kashmir — with casings made of tin or mild steel — the consignment could have originated from across the western or eastern borders.

That the markings are confusing could be deliberately so. “This is often the case with explosives meant for use in a third country for secret operations,” an ordnance factory source said.

As the inquiry into origins muddled through, investigators had more or less made up their minds that the end-point was not Nandigram or any other place in East Midnapore. Rather, the mines might have been going to some place in West Midnapore where the PW is fighting the police-CPM combine.

Although 10 activists surrendered in the district last month, a close-knit group is still active in West Midnapore, officials said.

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