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Maoists fox cops with split-and-scoot tactic

Midnapore, Sept. 21: Maoists in West Midnapore have split into small groups and are constantly on the move, a tactic shift that has foxed police informers and left the joint forces groping for big breakthroughs since late July.

Police sources said over the past several months, they had developed sources in Maoist-infested villages but because of the strategy shift by the rebels, the network of informers is no longer proving effective.

District police chief Manoj Verma pointed to the problems the rebels’ new cat-and-mouse game has thrown up. “Divided into small groups of five or six, the Maoists are not staying in one place for long. They are moving fast on motorcycles. So our sources in the villages are not being able to provide information about them.”

The change in tack has stacked the odds against the troops whose successful operations earlier were possible because villagers provided accurate tip-offs on larger groups of 20 to 30 Maoists camping in their jungle hideouts for days. In some cases, the information was so precise that the forces conducted night raids.

Another officer explained the difference. “It was easier for the villagers to gather information on the Maoists because they used to stay in large groups by pitching tents in the jungles. The villagers used to inform us about the size of the rebel groups, how many women (rebels) were among them and the types of arms they had. Sometimes, we even got names if they hailed from that area.”

Giving examples, police sources said on June 16, the joint forces had received information about a group of 30 Maoists cooped up in Salboni’s Ranja jungles. They combed the area and, in the ensuing encounter, killed eight rebels — one of the highest casualties suffered by the Maoists in Bengal in a single incident.

In another such encounter on July 26, the forces zeroed in on a group of 16 rebels and gunned down six of them, including then secretary of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities Sidhu Soren in the jungles of Metala, about 25km from Lalgarh.

The officer attributed the twin successes to the fact that larger bands of guerrillas and their longer stays in a single spot made it easier for them to be detected.

“In both cases, the Maoists had set up camps and had been staying in one place for days. But now, the Maoists have split into smaller groups and are speeding from one place to another within hours. A group of five to six staying in a jungle in Jamboni today may be in the woods of Sankrail, around 40km away, the next day,” the officer said.

Most officers agree that such small numbers of Maoists makes it difficult for the villagers to distinguish them from the others. This partly explains why no big encounters have been possible in August and September so far.

The only place where a large band of about 20 to 30 rebels is believed to be hiding is Nayagram, where five of a family, including four brothers, were gunned down on September 13, the police sources said.

“For this reason (smaller groups changing places), we are finding it difficult to locate them,” police chief Verma said.

Another officer said there had been occasions recently when the joint forces went on raids but found the rebels had escaped.

Most recent attacks on CPM workers in Salboni, Lalgarh and Jhargram were carried out by five to six Maoists, not larger groups.

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