The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Terror at high noon across border

Kakarvitta (Nepal), March 16: A daylight Maoist raid on this border town, about 35 km from Siliguri, today claimed two lives, including that of a policeman.

Another policeman was injured in the raid. The incident prompted Indian security forces to rush in reinforcements along the free border.

Kakarvitta comes under Jhapa district in eastern Nepal.

While the Nepalese police claimed that the other person killed was a Maoist rebel, residents here said he was a civilian. He was identified as Surya Gautam, a member of Anarmuni Village Development Council No. 6. The dead policeman is Dilip Mehta, a havildar of the Armed Police. Havildar Santosh Mechi, was the one injured in the raid.

The rebels, numbering about 18-20 and wearing workaday clothes, swooped down on the town in a jeep and a motorcycle from Bahundangi, about 6 km away. Machine guns in hand, they immediately surrounded the Kakarvitta police station and customs office, both located near the checkpost.

When the sentries posted in front of the Laxmi Narayan Mandir adjacent to the customs office challenged a group that was heading towards the police station, the rebels opened fire, injuring the two policemen. Mehta died of his injuries later.

In the 45-minute encounter that followed, the police returned the rebels' fire. Gautam was among the many present near the busy checkpost and was caught in the crossfire, claimed eyewitnesses. The police, however, contested the claim. 'As far as we are concerned, he was a rebel. A fake driving licence was found on his person,' said P. Shah, officer in-charge of Kakarvitta police station.

Shah was in his office when the attack began at 12.45 pm IST. He immediately took cover and ordered retaliatory fire.

After the encounter, the rebels returned through the same route that they had taken to mount the raid. While fleeing, they also managed to take away a light machine gun from the policemen. 'They must have returned to their hideouts in the neighbouring Ilam district,' residents speculated.

Senior police and military officials of the district have arrived here to take stock of the situation. Jhapa, like other Maoist-infested districts of Nepal, has a unified command structure in place. It is headed by the Royal Nepal Army and includes both the Nepal Armed Police and regular police. The chief district officer of Jhapa, Bhola Prasad Sivakoti, was also seen taking updates from security officials at the police station after the incident.

Following the attack, almost all shops in the town of about 12,000 people downed shutters. In fact, when a team of Siliguri-based reporters landed here about 4 pm, most parts of the town wore a deserted look. 'Such attacks would never have taken place had the government created a situation for the rebels to extend the unilateral ceasefire that they called off early this year,' said Durga Sapkota, the Mechinagar president of Nepali Congress.

On the Indian side of the border, security has been tightened. A team of combat forces was rushed in from Siliguri to reinforce the Kakarvitta-Panitanki border. 'We have sent more forces from the headquarters and have also increased patrolling along the border,' said Rajesh Subarna, the Darjeeling superintendent of police.

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