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Anaconda-II hiss in forest

- Fresh Saranda offensive launched

Ranchi/Jamshedpur, Dec. 10: Security forces launched a fresh offensive in Saranda today, a fortnight after armed Maoists torched six heavy vehicles engaged in road construction work, signalling that the rebels were back in the forests of East Singhbhum.

As many as 16 companies — around 1,600 personnel — of CRPF, Jharkhand Jaguar, Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) and state police have fanned out into the jungles to flush out rebels who were driven out during a similar operation in August-September last year, prompting the Centre to unveil an ambitious development plan worth Rs 249 crore for the neglected region.

Fittingly, today’s operations, the re-deployment of security forces for what looks to be another round of a sustained offensive, are being called, Anaconda-II.

“We have advanced the operations against the Naxalites in Saranda after the November 26 rebel strike. The operations will be carried out with a focus on areas where construction activities, like building of roads and police camps, are on,” S.N. Pradhan, Jharkhand police IG (operations and intelligence), told The Telegraph.

According to police sources, the starting point of the offensive was Thalkobad in Manoharpur block where a large number of Maoists were suspected to have gathered.

“Forces from adjoining Noamundi, Kiriburu and Gua camps have also been mobilised to take part in the operation, which will continue till the rebels are flushed out,” Manoharpur DSP Sunil Kumar Jha said.

On November 26, Maoists made their presence felt while observing “martyrs’ week” by setting ablaze six vehicles, including earth movers and pick-up trucks that were being used to build roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) at Usaria village in Kiriburu.

“It is the same village Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh was supposed to visit last week,” said Jha. “This was enough to suggest that the rebels are present in good numbers.”

Moreover, he added, intelligence reports suggested that the dreaded Kundan Pahan had been given additional charge of Saranda, while Samar, who was looking after the region till now, had been moved to Odisha.

Immediately after the strike, the police moved a patrol party, which managed to evade a trap laid by the rebels. According to sources, Maoists had planted IEDs on the approach road between Chotanagra and Surga, but the security forces used the forest route to reach the site of the carnage.

Soon after the incident, Union minister Ramesh is understood to have expressed concern over the state of security in the forests of West Singhbhum, pointing out that the “success” of Saranda should not be wasted.

Last year, when Anaconda-I was launched, the forests of Saranda were being used by Maoists as their eastern regional bureau headquarters. But a sustained, two-month-long offensive ensured that Asia’s largest sal reserves were cleansed of rebels, leading to the unveiling of a massive development plan.

Ramesh has, since then, visited the forests a number of times to interact with local villagers, hear their problems. He has even distributed goodies that included solar lanterns. Construction is on to build as many as 24 permanent camps for the CRPF and police with Jharkhand Police Housing Corporation assigned the task in half a dozen locations.