| Villagers gather for a glimpse of the six rebels who were killed by members of the Sangharsh Jan Mukti Morcha in Latehar on Sunday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Chandwa (Latehar) Jan. 23: Six prominent Maoists were killed late on Sunday night in a fierce gunbattle at Boda village but not with the police. It was a breakaway group of the Naxalites, a little-known private army styled as Sangharsh Jan Mukti Manch (SJMM), which was credited with the ambush on the unsuspecting Maoists.
Elsewhere in the state, however, Maoists targeted political parties, torched a campaign vehicle of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Manatu and destroyed a RJD election office in Dumri (Giridih). The JMM workers campaigning in Panki constituency were also assaulted and warned against entering the area for campaigning.
At Dumri, armed Naxalites set ablaze an election office of the RJD and retreated after pasting posters calling upon people to boycott the election.
The sensational ambush in Chandwa, meanwhile, left several prominent Maoists dead, some of them wanted by the police. They were easily identified because they belonged to surrounding villages. One of them, Sakhi Oraon, carried a reward of Rs 1 lakh on his head while Sohan Ganju was wanted by the police since 1994 for the murder of a police officer. Others killed have been identified as Mathura Oraon, Vinod, Jeevan Oraon and Hazrat Mian.
Maoists though were not the primary target of the SJMM, which torched six vehicles belonging to Allied Construction Company at Budhuwa busti, 20 km from the Kuru police station. The company is engaged in laying a 20-km road stretch. A slip of paper was handed over to one of the labourers, threatening Rajiv Modi with even more serious repercussions if he did not compromise. It was signed by one Loha Singh.
The armed miscreants then retreated towards Chandwa and appear to have been tipped off about the Maoists having taken shelter in Boda. A fierce gunbattle appeared to have taken place after midnight, which continued for more than two hours.
SJMM and Maoists have had minor clashes, claimed Latehar superintendent of police Manvinder Singh Bhatia, but Sunday's encounter is the first major clash between the groups in over a year. Loha Singh, he confirmed, fell out with Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) over sharing the booty and he and one Teja Singh walked out to form their own group.
The construction company has confirmed that the group had demanded a hefty levy to allow them to work in peace.
While villagers claimed that the private army surrounded a cluster of houses in which around 50 Maoists had taken shelter for the night after a meeting, the police are intrigued by wounds inflicted by sharp weapons that were found on some of the bodies.
Officials are hoping that an injured villager, Pradeep Oraon, who was rushed to Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (Rims) would survive and provide a first-hand account of what happened. Judging by the cartridges and shells found at the site, the police concluded that the Maoists succumbed to both superior number as well as firepower.