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Cocoon cop cool to probe heat

Bangalore, Oct. 27: The questions came like bullets, but the man who outwitted the elusive Veerappan was equal to the task.

Tamil Nadu Special Task Force chief K. Vijayakumar and his second-in-command Jyothiprakash Mirji were also cool about an independent probe by human rights groups into the bandit's death in an October 18 encounter.

The two, hailed as heroes by Karnataka chief minister Dharam Singh and his predecessor S.M. Krishna today, faced a volley of questions on Operation Cocoon, the gang's booty and whether Veerappan shot himself before the encounter in Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri district.

But the queries that also touched on ransom paid to free Kannada screen icon Rajkumar from Veerappan's custody were deflected with tact.

Both officers preferred relocation to leading another operation to mine the forests for cash, ivory, arms and sandalwood stashed away by Veerappan and his men over three decades. 'My mandate is over. I am awaiting the government order (on next posting). It is for the local police to investigate and follow up these matters,' Vijayakumar told a news conference.

'I firmly believe that (the) hard core is gone. Small fringes and erstwhile supporters who gave refuge to the bandit may remain. They can be handled by police.'

Vijayakumar, who has been promoted to DGP, said he was not perturbed that several human rights organisations were either seeking an independent probe or themselves embarking on one. 'As a police officer, it is my duty to get at criminals. These organisations are doing their duty. The district magistrate has already started an inquiry. The local police will hand over whatever they found that night, be it a diary or the gang's weapons,' he said.

Veerappan was lured with the promise of medical attention for his cataract and diabetes. 'I felt sorry when I saw his body that night. Veerappan was like a slinking chicken in the final hours before he fell to our bullets,' Vijayakumar said.

The officer said the secret of the successful operation was a common command structure and thorough planning on likely encounters and frequent exercises for STF personnel. 'Operation Cocoon was planned six months ago and intensified in the last two months. It gave results. There is no iota of truth in reports that he killed himself. There are many bullets in Veerappan's body. It is left to the magisterial inquiry to find out which was the fateful bullet,' he said.

On Muthulakshmi's plea that her husband's body be exhumed for another post-mortem examination to find out if Veerappan committed suicide or was killed earlier by the STF, Vijayakumar said the bandit's widow was 'desperate' and making all sorts of allegations. 'If he did commit suicide, I am happy because the STF had broken his will-power,' he said.

The STF chief ruled out retaliatory strikes by militant organisations linked with Veerappan. 'If there are any such strikes, it will be handled. Veerappan had a huge criminal iconic image and several extremist groups were thirsty to use him,' he said.

An hour later, the officers were felicitated by Krishna.

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