Raipur, July 17: Still to recover from the Mumbai train blasts, the country today received a chilling reminder of the other violent front besieging it as Maoist guerrillas killed 26 people in a state-run “safe camp” in Chhattisgarh.
The Maoists, branded the biggest internal security threat by the Prime Minister, made a mockery of the Chhattisgarh government’s protective muscle when they attacked the camp, leaving with 50 hostages.
Numbering about 1,000, the raiders targeted the camp of 4,000 villagers who had left their homes following a series of Maoist attacks on supporters of the Salwa Judum, a state-managed people’s campaign against the rebels.
The state government has opened 27 such “relief” camps where some 50,000 people have taken shelter, apparently under heavy security cover.
No security personnel, however, were guarding the camp in Errabore village in Dantewada district, about 500 km south of the capital Raipur, when it was raided around 1 am. Those manning the gates were a group of special police officers (SPOs) ' villagers recruited and armed by the government.
“About 800 to 1,000 heavily armed Maoists, equipped with sophisticated weapons, raided the camp and killed scores of innocent people besides injuring others,” state police chief .P. Rathor said.
The rebels moved around freely inside the camp for about two hours, shooting and hacking villagers whom they recognised as Salwa Judum supporters, and setting 120 huts on fire.
“The dead include three women, a one-year-old and a three-month-old,” inspector-general Girdhari Nayak said. “The three-month-old was among the three victims who died of burns.”
“There is every possibility that the rebels will kill the abducted villagers,” another senior officer said. He added that the 200 missing inmates had probably fled in panic and were expected to return in a day or two.
Before the massacre ' the first major strike since K.P.S. Gill became security adviser to the state government on April 18 ' the guerrillas had attacked the Errabore police station and the nearby Central Reserve Police Force camp, confining the personnel inside.
But a senior police officer, on condition of anonymity, asked why the personnel were inside the police station and CRPF camp instead of patrolling the area.
“The security agencies had intelligence inputs that the rebels would strike a big blow,” he said.
Maoists usually carry out a major operation just after the onset of monsoon or before the Chhattisgarh Assembly session. The House will sit from July 24.
Maoists from Andhra Pradesh, too, are suspected to have participated in the strike. The inter-state border was sealed as the police searched the area for the rebels and their hostages. The police in Andhra sealed both Chhattisgarh and Orissa borders.
Within a week, large-scale violent attacks have struck India in its glamorous urban hub and in backward Chhattisgarh, making it seem like a very unsafe country.
Terrorism is a shared experience. But it will not be easy for Manmohan Singh, who is attending a summit in St Petersburg, to explain to fellow world leaders the massacre in Chhattisgarh, unaided by hands from across the border.