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Thursday , November 15 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Five Maoists killed, Panda escapes

Jawans bring their colleagues injured in the encounter to MKCG Medical College and Hospital in Berhampur. Picture by Gopal Krishna Reddy

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 14: Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda gave security forces the slip yet again but five of his associates were killed in an encounter with Special Operations Group and District Volunteer Force jawans on the Ganjam-Gajapati border, about 200km from here.

“Two Special Operations Group (SOG) jawans also sustained injuries in the exchange of fire between the two sides that took place around 10am in the Baliaguda forests in Govindpur panchayat within Mohana police limits,” director-general of police Prakash Mishra said.

The cops said Sabyasachi, who was expelled from the CPI(Maoist) in August following differences with the top leadership of the organisation, led the rebels during the encounter but managed to escape. However, he is believed to have sustained injuries.

“Police have seized the bodies of the slain Maoists and one Italian pistol used by their leader, Sabyasachi, from the spot,” said Ganjam superintendent of police Ashis Singh. Around 20 Maoists were involved in the encounter that followed a joint combing operation by the SOG and the District Volunteer Force.

“The joint operation is continuing. Police have cordoned off the area,” said DIG southern range R.K Sharma. Following today’s encounter, security forces are likely to step up operations against 43-year-old Panda, who fell out of favour with the CPI(Maoist) leadership after he kidnapped two Italian nationals in March without taking his leaders into confidence. The abduction of the Italians — Claudio Colangelo and Paulo Bosusco — triggered an international furore finally forcing the rebel chief to set them free, but not before he had negotiated with the state government the release of his wife Subhashree alias Milli Panda from jail.

His relations with the top Maoist leadership worsened when he wrote a much publicised letter criticising them for having deviated from the path of “revolution” and engaging in senseless violence. Panda, son of a former CPI(M) legislator Ramesh Panda, also accused Maoist leaders from Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh of exploiting and torturing the party cadre from Odisha.

Coinciding with his expulsion from the CPI(Maoist), the rebel leader, who is the main accused in the Swami Laxmananand Saraswati murder case, floated the Odisha Maobadi Party which, however, is reported to have a tenuous base. Panda’s area of operation, which once covered large parts of Ganjam, Gajapati, Rayagada and Kandhamal districts, has now shrunk to a few panchayats of Kandhamal and Ganjam. Senior police officials confide that for the past sometime he has been confined within a 70-km radius in this belt.

Panda’s wife, Milli, however, launched a blistering attack against the government accusing it of following double standards and trying to hunt down her husband without any real provocation. She sought to remind the government that while her husband had not indulged in violence in the recent past, a group of intellectuals from the state had addressed to him an appeal for returning to the social mainstream. Milli felt that coercive operations launched by the government against “revolutionaries” like Sabyasachi would prove counter-productive.