Sept. 17: Police and militants armed with automatic weapons exchanged fire in two separate shootouts in Jalpaiguri district today, exactly a month after the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation gunned down five CPM workers at Dhupguri.
In a fierce gunbattle reported from Kumargram, hub of the Kamtapuris, police fired nearly 100 rounds at a group of nine Ulfa and KLO militants. The extremists, flushed out of a house in Chengamari village, escaped unhurt.
In the other incident, the police and a group of KLO activists fired at each other on the dry bed of the Jaldhaka river in Jalpaiguri. Here, too, the militants managed to flee. Tushar Roy, second-in-command in the militant outfit, was believed to be in the group.
Inspector general of police (law and order) Chayan Mukherjee said in Calcutta that the militants holed up in Chengamari were believed to have slipped into neighbouring Assam. He said the district police contacted their counterparts in Assam and sought help to flush out the militants.
Though district police sources confirmed the second shootout in Jalpaiguri, Mukherjee said he had no information.
The armed militants had forced their way into three houses at Chengamari village under the Kumargram police station early in the morning and demanded food at gunpoint.
As a police contingent, led by district superintendent Siddh Nath Gupta, entered the village late in the morning, the extremists came out of the houses and ran towards a nearby forest.
While the security forces, including commandos, threw a ring and blocked all exits, the extremists pulled on black fatigues to hoodwink their pursuers.
The police and the militants exchanged heavy fire for nearly two hours. During a brief lull, the nine managed to sneak into the Sikia forest.
As the militants fled towards Paglahat, a CRPF contingent, called in by district authorities to deal with the heavily-armed extremists, arrived. But the security personnel failed to recognise the militants, mistaking them for commandos from the police force.
It was too late by the time the paramilitary forces realised the mistake. The militants had already crossed into Assam through the Tukra forest. They had also forded the Gholani and Sikiajhora rivers before entering Assam.
“We are sure the militants belonged to the KLO-Ulfa combine. They took advantage of the forest terrain and managed to cross over to Assam,” superintendent Gupta said.
In the other incident, the police became suspicious when they spotted six men walking down the Jaldhaka riverbed in the Dobabari-Bamandanga area of Jalpaiguri district. When challenged, the group opened fire at the police team, which retaliated.
Police sources said the militants under cover of flying bullets managed to escape.