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Rebels point ‘booby trap’ finger at forces

Calcutta, Jan. 17: Maoists have accused security forces of booby-trapping village paths to kill them and “victimise” civilians to “defame” the rebels, in the latest round of finger-pointing since last week’s ambush at Latehar in Jharkhand.

The rebel spokesman who made the claim, however, did not clarify who had planted explosives in the bodies of two CRPF jawans who died in the January 7 encounter, an act condemned by rights activists across the country.

Toofan, CPI (Maoist) spokesman for the outfit’s special area military commission in the Bihar-Jharkhand-north Chhattisgarh border region, said the forces had left behind explosives in villages in such a way that the slightest touch would trigger an explosion.

“In their pursuit of a contingent of our People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army since early December, the CRPF and the Jharkhand Jaguar joint forces had planted booby traps connected to rocket-propelled bombs and grenades so that they would explode whenever one touches them. It was done to victimise the villagers and defame our party,” he said in a recorded audio message. “We appeal to the media and human rights organisations to investigate the matter and bring forth the truth.”

The audio clip in Hindi, sent to journalists, did not make it clear who had planted the pressure bomb prototypes in the abdomen of the slain CRPF jawans, possibly hoping to inflict heavier casualties when the bodies were removed. Security experts defused the bombs at a hospital in Ranchi after doctors suspected something was wrong.

The jawans were among 10 security force personnel and four civilians killed in the Latehar encounter and its aftermath. The civilians were reportedly killed when the forces asked villagers to remove the bodies of the jawans.

Toofan accused the forces of using local villagers as “bali ka bakra” (sacrificial goat) and urged villagers not to accompany the security forces and “act as their (human) shields”.

Civil rights groups deplored what they called “bestial deeds of the two warring sides” in Latehar. The Delhi-based People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) said the “mutilation of a dead body” was “unacceptable” and that planting of explosives in bodies to inflict further casualties made it “doubly heinous”.

“Instead of occupying the higher moral ground for their ‘people’s war’, Maoist combatants are showing a propensity for regression. We need to know from the CPI (Maoist) if they accept the principle of command responsibility for this act?” a PUDR statement said. It said the “use of civilians as human shields” by government forces was “equally deplorable” and a “cowardly act”.

It quoted Bijoy Turi, an injured villager, as saying that around 100 villagers, including women and children, were forced to join the forces in pursuit of the rebels.

“We took the children with us because we thought we would be safe from the police…. The 10 of us at the front received the worst injuries in the blasts,” Turi was quoted as saying while referring to the explosions when the bodies of the jawans were being shifted.

The PUDR demanded that the Centre and the CPI (Maoist) adhere to the Geneva Convention and Protocol.