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26 jawans killed in Maoist massacre belt

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By SHEENA K AND NISHIT DHOLABHAI
  • Published 30.06.10
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June 29: Maoists today gunned down 26 CRPF personnel in a daylight ambush from a hilltop in Chhattisgarh, the second massacre of central forces in the same state in less than three months.

The afternoon attack took place in Dhaurai in Narayanpur district, which borders Maharashtra and falls at one tip of the Maoist-infested Bastar region. The site is 200km from Dantewada, where 75 CRPF jawans were slaughtered on April 6 and which is located at the other end of Bastar.

Today’s strike means that the Maoists have book-ended the Bastar corridor with two massacres of central forces. The Centre’s initial response this evening suggested that it had factored in such casualties and could be bracing for more as a security offensive winds its way through treacherous terrain.

The slain jawans were part of a road-opening party that was apparently moving on foot, the recommended way of travel in Maoist-infested areas that are usually mined to blow up vehicles.

However, the jawans appear to have walked into a trap as the rebels were lying in wait on elevated terrain that offered a clean line of fire.

A senior official in the police headquarters in Raipur said: “As of now, we have reports that 26 jawans have been killed while over six have been injured.” Among the casualties was an assistant commandant, Jatin Gulati.

The team of 63 CRPF jawans, personnel of the special task force of Chhattisgarh police and special police officers had set out from a police station in the morning for sanitising a road in the area. The jawans were from the 39th battalion of the CRPF.

The Maoists struck around 3pm when the jawans were on their way back. The guerrillas opened fire when the jawans reached a canal 3km from the police station. It is not clear how the rebels, said to have numbered around 90, could amass so close to a police station without being noticed.

Although the area has thick forest cover, Narayanpur is a hot-button Maoist territory and security forces are supposed to be on their toes round the clock. The forces have come under attack in this belt on a number of occasions.

The jawans today had little time to respond or take cover. Within minutes, the Maoists had inflicted heavy casualties and fled before the force could take position. However, a PTI report said the security forces did return fire.

A measure of the lackadaisical response of the civilian leadership was available in the evening when chief minister Raman Singh convened an “emergency” meeting at his residence to take stock of the situation. State home minister Nankiram Kanwar was not present when the meeting started, apparently because he was performing a puja at his residence.

In New Delhi, the home ministry gave a measured reaction to the ambush, indicating a departure from the high-octane political response that followed the Dantewada massacre. “This was expected in retaliation (to security operations against the Maoists),” said a senior home ministry official.

The government has more or less come to terms with an assessment that there would be casualties when tackling insurgents. On April 6, alarmed by the scale of the Dantewada massacre, home minister P. Chidambaram had rushed to Chhattisgarh and offered to resign. The CRPF director-general is likely to visit the state tomorrow.

The ambush occurred while CRPF director-general Vikram Srivastava was holding discussions with Chidambaram on consolidating the central force in Maoist-affected states. The Centre has decided to make some administrative changes to streamline co-ordination. Four specialised posts will be created.

The Centre has been focusing on strengthening central forces after the military expressed its reluctance to get directly involved. But the army-headed Assam Rifles could be pressed in once the defence ministry gives the go-ahead.

The Centre is likely to push states to further strengthen local police and intelligence facilities for the paramilitary forces to be more effective.

The ambush is also expected to further cloud the fate of some peace overtures made by a Maoist spokesperson last month through Swami Agnivesh.