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Cops close in on Sabyasachi

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 9: Police are closing in on Odisha Maobadi Party (OMP) leader Sabyasachi Panda, who had managed to escape during the November 14 Bhaliaguda encounter on the Ganjam-Gajapati border.

Senior police officers said Panda’s apparent bravado notwithstanding, his area of operation had been severely limited in the wake of the encounter in which five of his associates were killed though the rebel chief claimed that they were innocent tribals.

Panda, who was forced to float the OMP following his expulsion from the CPI (Maoist) in August, is also running short of arms and food supplies while the number of his followers has been shrinking.

Police sources said that his situation was likely to become even more precarious following the arrest of Sangram Mohanty, son of Jan Adhikar Manch convenor Dandapani Mohanty, and one Kailash Mandal near Kamlapur village in Gajapati district last Wednesday.

Sangram was nabbed while allegedly handing over some weapons, food and cash to Mandal, who was supposed to carry these to one of the forest hide-outs of Panda, the police have claimed.

“The arrests in Gajapati have taken the police closer to Sabyasachi, who will soon be smoked out of the forests where the security forces, comprising CRPF and Special Operations Group jawans, are conducting a thorough search operation,” said a senior officer.

However, Dandapani Mohanty, who had played the role of a mediator when the state government faced major crises following the abduction of former Malkangiri collector R. Vineel Krishna in 2011 and two Italian nationals in March this year, has hit out at the police accusing them of framing his son to tarnish his image.

In a letter to chief minister Naveen Patnaik, the convenor of Jan Adhikar Manch claimed that his son was picked up by the police from Berhampur but he was later shown to have been arrested along with Mandal.

Alleging a vilification campaign against him, Mohanty, who has been fighting for the rights of tribals, urged the chief minister to order an impartial inquiry into the incident and release his son from “illegal” custody.

While the chief minister is yet to respond to Mohanty’s letter, there are indications of state government stepping up its operation not only against OMP chief Sabysachi Panda but also Maoists active in other parts of the state.

Sources in the government said this had become imperative because of the expanding base of rebels who now have a presence in 19 of the state’s 30 districts.

The situation in certain areas such as Koraput appears to have gone beyond control with the Maoists unleashing a reign of terror. With the rebels killing two village guards in the district in as many months, these security personnel, popularly known as gramrakkhis, have threatened mass resignation.

A weekly market in the district was also shut down recently following the appearance of Maoist posters seeking revenge for their colleagues killed in “fake” police encounters.

Police officials said that anti-Maoist drive in Koraput would be intensified soon with the cooperation of the local people.

“The people know the hide-outs and can provide us valuable information. We expect them to cooperate,” said an officer.