The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The hub falls
- Human shields, CRPF brake in final assault by cadres

Nandigram, Nov. 11: The Red Army recaptured all the Nandigram villages in a final, lightning offensive this evening while the state government pitched in by holding the just-arrived CRPF back at Tamluk.

Some 450 cadres crossed the Bhangabera and Tekhali bridges around 4.30-5pm and advanced towards the Opposition “fortress” of Sonachura, firing from behind 600 captive Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee supporters whom they used as human shields. By 5.30, Sonachura had fallen without resistance.

“The CPM game plan clicked. Seeing their supporters in front of the advancing cadres, the Pratirodh Committee men refrained from shooting and ran away,” a police officer said.

He said the CPM had sensed that Sonachura might put up a stiffer fight than Maheshpur, regained on Wednesday, and had drawn up the human-shield strategy.

The cadres already held some 100 Pratirodh Committee supporters hostage in Maheshpur. Yesterday, when Opposition marchers ran helter-skelter under the Red Brigade’s fire, some 500 of them were chased into party stronghold Khejuri and held captive.

The local police had already been instructed to stay inside the barracks. District police chief S.S. Panda, too, was stopped at Chandipur as he headed to Nandigram, the officer said. “He had to return to his Tamluk office.”

Garchakraberia fell at 6.30 after some token resistance. Kalicharanpur was easily overrun. By 7.30, when the cadres retreated into Maheshpur, Nandigram town was the lone Opposition citadel left standing.

The police gave no casualty figures other than saying that a Gokulnagar resident, Dipak Das, 30, was found with bullet injuries near Tekhali bridge and taken to hospital.

About 2,000 CPM refugees who had accompanied the attackers — they were sandwiched between the Red Brigade and the hostages — stayed back in their home villages. Some 100 fighters stayed for their protection. Late into the night, these cadres were firing warning shots to discourage any Opposition counterattack as more CPM homeless trooped back.

Tomorrow morning, the Central Reserve Police Force will arrive from district headquarters Tamluk, 65km away, to protect the returned refugees. By then, all the Red Brigade men will have left the entire area.

Allies RSP, Forward Bloc and the CPI held the CPM “entirely responsible” for the “politics of violence and revenge” in Nandigram but had not a word against the Trinamul Congress-led Pratirodh Committee. The victorious CPM promised safety to Opposition supporters.

“Most of those who had fled their homes from either side have returned. I appeal to the rest to come back immediately. They are free to carry out their respective political activities,” state secretariat member Shyamal Chakraborty said.

A district official said the CPM worked out its strategy late last night after the Centre agreed to send the CRPF. The paramilitary troops arrived in Howrah this morning but were taken out of the equation by the state government, which decides when and where to deploy them.

The cadres began shooting from Khejuri across the Bhangabera bridge, about 2km from Sonachura, since morning and the Opposition returned the fire intermit-tently.

Around 4.30pm, some 200 Red Brigade fighters crossed the Tekhali bridge and made towards Sonachura, 6-7km away, behind a thousand CPM refugees and 400 hostages.

Just after 5, a second group of 250 cadres — behind another 1,000 refugees and 150-200 hostages — crossed the Bhangabera bridge. It reached Sonachura around 5.45, some 15 minutes after the first team.

In Nandigram town, where some 10,000 Opposition supporters are camping, Pratirodh Committee convener Abu Taher said: “So many have been left homeless again today.”

Of the five CRPF companies (about 400 personnel) in Tamluk, 16 jawans set off for Nandigram police station tonight to oversee the arrangements but CPM cadres blocked their truck on the way.

The jawans chased them away but had to turn back when a group of women CPM supporters formed a chain before the truck a little ahead.

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