The Telegraph
Friday , May 4 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cops strike at Panda hideout

Bhubaneswar, May 3: Maoist top gun Sabyasachi Panda is on the run, almost two months after he had the Odisha government over a barrel with the kidnapping of two Italian nationals.

Armed with vital information about his cadre strength and weapons stock, security forces have struck deep into his hideouts in Ganjam-Kandhamal forests, narrowing down his survival options.

Senior police officials said the operation against the CPI (Maoist) state organising secretary commenced in the right earnest on April 27 when security forces destroyed one of his camps near Paniamba in the Sorada police station area of Ganjam near the Kandhamal border.

Apart from some detonators, a generator set, a bullet-proof jacket and other proof of the laptop-carrying Maoist leader’s stay there, the security forces also seized pornographic CDs, contraceptives and some pregnancy test kits from the spot following a half-an-hour encounter with the rebels.

“It is a staggered but continuous operation. We are not going to let him rest,” said DIG (southern range) R.K. Sharma.

The officer agreed with reports that Sabyasachi, whose relations with the Telugu-speaking Maoist leaders operating in southern Odisha soured in the wake of the Italians’ kidnapping, was getting increasingly isolated.

“He is fast losing support within his own faction. One of his most trusted lieutenants, Nikhil, is believed to be leading a group of his own. He has also been alienated from his former confidant, Sushil, who is part of the Maoists’ Kalinga Nagar division,” said Sharma.

Chased by the security forces on one hand and facing a threat to his life from his rivals in southern Odisha on the other, Sabyasachi, the younger son of a former communist leader and MLA Ramesh Panda, now finds himself confined within a 90-km stretch, extending from Sorada in Ganjam to Brahmanigaon in Kandhamal. On the other side of Brahmanigaon is Gajapati district, but Panda dare not step there as his Telugu-speaking Maoist rivals are on the lookout for him.

The state police and the CRPF, now acting in sync to smoke out the rebel chief, remain equally determined to cut down his escape routes.

“We have posted a company of CRPF at Gajalbadi between Sorada and Daringbadi to further limit his options. He is going to be cornered sooner or later,” said Sharma, though he refused to hazard a guess on whether Sabyasachi, who released the two Italians taken captive by him in March after his wife walked out of jail, might consider giving himself up to the police.

Sources said the police had gathered a lot of information about Sabyasachi and his group while Italian tour operator Paulo Bosusco, who speaks fluent Odia, was still in his custody.

The flow of information increased significantly following Bosusco’s release on April 12 though officials remain tight-lipped about the details.

Now, that he has the benefit of hindsight, the rebel chief, who faces the heat of a full-fledged police operation, might be regretting having ever kidnapped the Italians, especially Bosusco, who not only soaked in the details of the Maoists’ forest camp during his long captivity, but also eavesdropped on their conversation gleaning useful information.

Paolo and Italian tourist Claudio Colangelo were kidnapped on March 14 from Daringbadi forests on the border of Kandhamal and Ganjam districts.

The news of the abduction, however, became public on March 17 after Panda sent an audiocassette to some TV channels, claiming responsibility for the kidnapping.

In the audio cassette Panda claimed that the two Italian nationals were abducted as they were taking photographs of semi-clad women taking bath in the villages of Kandhamal.

The rebel leader alleged that the foreign tourists were trying to demean the tribal people and the state government, in the name of promoting tourism, was helping their objectification.