Sept. 18: A communication gap, coupled with a lack of coordination among security agencies, helped the militants escape from the Kumargram area of Jalpaiguri district yesterday.
Security personnel and nine extremists belonging to the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) had exchanged heavy fire in Chengamari village before the militants slipped away. Police said the militants, dressed in black commando fatigues to hoodwink the pursuing securitymen, had fled into neighbouring Assam.
Well-placed sources said it was a “golden opportunity” for the police to capture the prime suspects in the Dhupguri killings, who were believed to be in the group. Yesterday’s encounter had taken place exactly a month after the KLO militants attacked the CPM office and gunned down five party workers.
The nine militants had forced their way into three houses in Chengamari village and demanded food at gunpoint. Though the local police station had reportedly passed the information on to the district headquarters almost immediately, there was a delay in sending reinforcements because of a communication gap.
Source said the police were not fully prepared when they arrived on the scene. Villagers said policemen were on a routine patrol and barely armed. The policemen virtually looked on as the militants, armed with automatics, ran away.
Sources said though policemen had fired more than 100 rounds, it was ineffective because they did not have long-range rifles. The assault rifles the securitymen used were not very effective in hitting moving targets at a distance.
Police officials said they had laid a trap for the militants as they tried to flee down the Raidak river bed, but the militants suddenly changed direction.
The lack of coordination between the police and paramilitary forces also resulted in a delay. Sources said it was too late by the time a CRPF contingent arrived at the village.
As the militants were dressed in black commando fatigues, the securitymen mistook them for their colleagues.
Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Siddh Nath Gupta said there was no shortage of ammunition in the hands of the police. “There were 20 policemen who had 40 rounds of bullets each with them. This totalled up to a whopping 800 rounds.’’