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Cops circle hiding Maoists, lose 3

Gadchiroli, Aug. 20: Three troopers and a woman Maoist were killed in a 12-hour encounter in Maharashtra today when forces cordoned off a village after getting information that at least 30 rebels were hiding there.

Personnel from the anti-Maoist Cobra battalion, the CRPF and the state’s commando force encircled the village close to Gadchiroli town at dawn.

The operation was the first in Maharashtra when such a large number of rebels were surrounded and attacked by security forces. Yesterday in Chhattisgarh, 12 constables died in a Maoist ambush.

The Maoists, resting in a village called Makadchuha, opened fire at the advancing forces, killing head constable Devangan Pardesi and injuring CRPF constable Chandan Nath.

The police suffered two more deaths later in the day when they tried to advance into the village during a brief lull in firing from the rebels’ side. Constables Chandrashekhar Kore and Yashir Ahmed of the Cobra battalion were killed. Vitthal Pawar, a soldier of the state’s C-60 anti-Maoist commando team, was injured.

“The firing on our team came from huts and maize farms,” district superintendent of police S. Veeresh Prabhu said. “We had to be cautious as they (the Maoists) had taken refuge in huts and villagers’ lives were at stake,” he said.

No civilian casualties have been reported yet in today’s gunfight.

The police believe an entire Maoist dalam and two local squads, making up 30-35 rebels in total, had taken shelter in the village.

The exchange of fire went on for the entire day, but the Maoists retreated at dusk. In the heavy rain they slipped out of the village, the police said.

The security forces who carried out a search of the huts late in the evening found the body of the woman Maoist. She was identified as 35-year-old Raneeta alias Ramko Hichami, a commander of the Chatgaon dalam.

Raneeta, who had been in the dalam for about two decades, was the wife of Sunil, a member of the north-Gadchiroli divisional committee of the CPI (Maoists), which is active in this part.

The police said they recovered some Maoist literature and a few .303 rifles from the spot.

A rescue team of about 70 policemen cordoned off the entire village later. More reinforcements were sent for from the Gadchiroli district headquarters.

All the injured soldiers have been airlifted to a private hospital in Nagpur, the police said.

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