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Maoists in bus spill police blood

Raipur, April 16: Three days after the Prime Minister met six chief ministers to draw up plans to fight the Maoists, guerrillas today blocked several highways in Chhattisgarh, drove a hijacked bus to a police outpost and gunned down 11 personnel.

The morning attack on the Murkinaar outpost, about 550 km from here, came on a day former Punjab police chief K.P.S. Gill was to join as adviser to the state on how to combat Maoists, but failed to turn up for unexplained reasons.

After a three-hour operation during which they lost two cadres, the rebels slipped into the forests carrying with them the entire stock of weapons at the post ' light machineguns, AK-47s, rocket launchers and grenades.

The Maoists had arrived in the guise of ordinary villagers around 10 am, driving a passenger bus they had hijacked on the Bijapur-Bhopalpatnam route and began firing.

The dozen and odd special armed force personnel and 27 special police officers (SPOs) ' villagers trained and appointed to combat rebels ' had little time to react. After a short gun battle left an assistant platoon commandant, a head constable, two constables and seven SPOs dead, the rest offered little resistance.

Just 36 hours earlier, the rebels had made a mockery of the state government’s move to beef up security in jails by storming Narayanpur sub-jail in Bastar district, about 300 km from here.

On Thursday, the government had issued a circular to district collectors warning Maoists were likely to attack jails in the state as they had done in Jehanabad of Bihar and R. Udaygiri of Orissa.

Around 9 pm on Friday, some 35 guerrillas raided the sub-jail, guns blazing, and took control for two hours. No one was injured, and senior officers suggested it could be a show of muscle rather than a genuine operation, for the jail held no Maoist prisoners.

The Murkinaar outpost, near Bijapur in Dantewada district, was a temporary one, set up for an ongoing campaign of the Salwa Judum ' the government-backed people’s peace movement against the rebels. The Maoists have repeatedly targeted the Salwa Judum in recent months, with heavy casualties.

The attackers took control of the Awapalli-Bijapur and Bhopalpatnam-Jagdalpur routes during the entire operation to block reinforcements.

On Thursday, the six chief ministers had told the Prime Minister and the home ministry that they needed more paramilitary forces and helicopters to tackle the rebels.

Hours before the Murkinaar attack, the police had tasted some success against the insurgents, shooting dead Maoist commander Sagar and his wife Soma, who carried awards of Rs 1.4 lakh and Rs 5,000 on their heads.

The couple died in an hour-long gun battle around midnight near Ramanujganj in Sarguja district, about 400 km from here.

Sources said Sagar alias Samar was a CPI (Maoist) zonal commander, wanted in more than two dozen cases of killings and attacks on police in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Soma headed the local Maoist women’s wing.

Chhattisgarh has witnessed more Maoist attacks than any other state in recent months. On March 25, the rebels had blown up a private jeep after mistaking it for a police vehicle, killing 13 people. On February 28, they killed 32 villagers returning from a peace rally in a truck, again having mistaken them for members of the Salwa Judum.

On September 3 last year, 23 policemen and a civilian travelling in an anti-landmine vehicle were killed in a blast.

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