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City soldier arms Maoists
One of the seized anti-personnel mines. Picture by Sanjay Chattopadhyaya

Calcutta, Oct. 12: An Eastern Command soldier supplied Maoists with landmines and cartridges smuggled from the defence ministry’s ordnance factory on Calcutta’s northern fringes, army and police said today.

Lance-naik Bijit Sardar was arrested with two of his brothers, Swarup and Sujit, for allegedly running the arms racket from the Gun and Shell Factory at Icchapore.

Bijit was posted at Fort William and not Icchapore, so a wider network of factory insiders cannot be ruled out, the army said. The ammunition may have been stolen inside the factory or during transit to army depots.

The haul includes 543 landmines, manufactured in August, and over 1,000 cartridges of various kinds of rifles: 9-mm, 7.62-mm, 5.56 Insas and .303.

“This is the first time we have found one of our own men involved in smuggling ammunition,” said the Eastern Command spokesperson, Wing Commander R.K. Das.

“This is one of the biggest haul of mines and other ammunition from any city in recent times. Raids are still on and we’ll not be able to disclose much. This could lead us to a bigger haul.”

A few months ago, factory officials had told army intelligence they suspected that some of the ammunition they made was being smuggled out. The army put some of its personnel, especially those who joined the Eastern Command recently, under watch.

Bijit, who had been transferred from Jammu and Kashmir three months ago, raised suspicion by lying about his movements, officers said. Today, around 3.30 pm, a joint army, police and state intelligence team caught him red-handed with several landmines.

Bijit led them to a house in Jorapukur, beyond Shakuntala Park in Behala, from where his brothers were arrested and the rest of the cache recovered in gunny bags.

“They have been handed over to the CID. Ammunition experts are set to arrive to look into the haul. We’ll wait for their report,” chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said.

The wing commander said he believed Bijit’s brothers had been smuggling arms for a long time. “The two civilians arrested are arms dealers who have been in this business for a long time. We believe they have been supplying militant groups.”

The deputy inspector-general, CID (operations), Rajeev Kumar, said police were probing how the ammunition was smuggled out. “We are also probing the links of the lance-naik with people in the factory.”

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