Raipur, Feb. 28: In one of the biggest Maoist strikes on civilians in the country, at least 28 villagers were killed and about 120 feared abducted in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district this morning.
Unofficial reports said over 50 people were killed in the ambush.
More than 200 villagers were returning from a “Salwa Judum” (People’s Movement against Naxalites) meeting in two trucks and a bus when the Maoists detonated a landmine, blowing up one of the vehicles near Konta, around 500 km south of the capital.
Director-general of police .P. Rathor said the victims, mostly tribals belonging to the government-backed anti-Maoist group, were returning home after attending a meeting at Dornapal village last evening.
As their convoy approached Eklagoda village around 11.30 this morning, the rebels set off a powerful landmine, sending one of the trucks 20 feet into the air. Several of the passengers were killed on the spot while the rest lay injured.
After the blast, the rebels opened fire on the two other vehicles and took them under their control. They then reportedly abducted nearly 120 villagers.
Chief minister Raman Singh said the extremists had entered Orissa along with their hostages after crossing the Sabri river. The site of the strike is close to the Orissa and Andhra Pradesh borders.
A resident passing through the area informed Errabore police station, 3 km from the spot, of the ambush. A police team arrived soon after and informed the headquarters of the rebel attack. Additional forces from nearby areas were also rushed as reinforcement.
Commandos of the National Security Guard (NSG) were air-dropped at the spot by a special Indian Air Force helicopter, which also carried the injured to the Bhadrachalam Government Hospital in Andhra. The condition of 15 villagers was reported to be critical.
The chief minister chaired a high-level meeting to take stock of the situation before leaving for Dantewada with other officials.
Talking to reporters, Singh said the villagers fell into the Maoists’ trap as they did not follow the government’s instructions. “The security personnel and villagers attending the Salwa Judum meetings had been strictly ordered to travel only by foot,” he said, adding that the size of the group could have forced the villagers to opt for heavy vehicles.
The anti-Maoist campaign, the chief minister said, would continue in spite of today’s setback. “The government will redesign the strategy and give a new direction to the campaign,” he asserted, describing the rebel act as “desperate and cowardly”.
Security personnel have been pressed into service to find the Maoists and the missing villagers. Besides the NSG, jawans of the Nagaland Armed Police, Central Reserve Police Force and special task force of the state police are also involved in the combing and search operations.
Before today’s incident, the Maoists had killed 95 villagers for participating in Salwa Judum, a government-backed peace movement launched on June 6 last year.
At yesterday’s meeting in Dornapal, more than 10,000 people had reportedly come from Konta, Errabore and adjoining areas.
The home minister had earlier announced that the traditional weapons used by the villagers would be replaced with modern equipment. But, sources said, the villagers never got the weapons.