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Maoist bastion out of bounds

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 21: Success has so far eluded police and paramilitary forces in penetrating the area across the Balimela reservoir in Odisha’s Malkangiri district where Maoists hold the sway.

Senior officials here admitted that radical activities were on the rise in what has come to be known as the “cut-off” area.

Police are wary of stepping into this largely uncharted territory, which came into prominence in 2011 when the rebels kidnapped the then Malkangiri collector, R. Vineel Krishna.

“The area consists of 151 villages, but they remain largely inaccessible because of the difficult terrain. We don’t even blame the local police and the civic administration for failing to reach there,” said an official, pointing out that yet another reason for the region turning into a Maoist stronghold was its proximity to Andhra Pradesh.

The only means of communication between the mainland and the “cut-off” area are boats and motor launches. During rains, it remains cut off since few people are willing to take the risk of taking a boat ride in the swollen reservoir where in 2008 the rebels gunned down 30 Greyhound jawans of Andhra Pradesh police.

The residents, devoid of basic facilities such as pure drinking water and electricity, are a disgruntled lot. A section of them feels closer to Andhra Pradesh than Odisha because of their lingual and cultural affinity with the neighbouring state. There are also frequent reports of incursion of Andhra Pradesh officials into the area.

Sources said whatever little presence the administration had in the cut-off area has disappeared since the kidnapping of Krishna, who had to spend over a week in Maoist captivity. Officials are now wary of stepping into the area even with adequate security with an impression having gained ground that the rebels’ firepower in this region is superior to that of the police and the paramilitary forces.

Intelligence sources said rebels from Chhattisgarh frequently take shelter in the area as it is considered to be the state’s strongest Maoist bastion. “Often the rebels hold their top-level meetings here,” said an official.