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Cops caught off guard

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  • Published 1.03.06
Mind the mines

Belpahari, March 1: Even in this Naxalite stronghold, police had least expected the rebels to ambush them in the precincts of a village far from any forest that could provide cover.

The landmine explosion at Hatidoba on Sunday that blew up a police vehicle and killed four people, including two policemen, was a bolt from the blue, the West Midnapore police conceded.

Senior police officials said this is the first time that the Maoists have detonated a landmine in open space next to paddy fields. “We never imagined that such a massive explosion could be triggered at a place like Hatidoba. There is no rough terrain or dense forest there. Villagers frequently use the road (used by the van that was blown up). Now, we have to think of a strategy to tackle Maoists outside forest areas,” said Ajay Nanda, the district superintendent of police.

His jeep had travelled on the road some two hours before the blast. The police believe that he was the real target.

A CPI (Maoist) activist with whom this correspondent was able to establish contact claimed: “This attack was to prove that our operations are no longer limited to hills and forests. The police thought we only strike in the jungles and on rugged terrain. Sunday’s blast was to prove them wrong.”

Experts from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Calcutta went to the blast site in the Belpahari area of West Midnapore, 230 km from Calcutta, yesterday.

They collected strewn debris to ascertain the nature of explosive used.

Hatidoba is part of a cluster of villages in a 3-4 km radius that includes Bankshol, Barshol, Shyamnagar, Jamboni, Nischintipur, Palashboni, Bhuladhora and Tarafeni.

In October 2004, the Maoists blew up a jeep killing six Eastern Frontier Rifles jawans at Bankishol in Lalgarh, about 180 km from Calcutta.

Bankishol was also on the plains but was surrounded by dense forest. The police have learnt that the blast was the handiwork of not more than one or two extremists.

Inspector-general of police (western range) Banibrata Basu said the area is open and it is not possible for a group to operate without being noticed.

The Maoist confirmed that a duo carried out the Sunday strike.

At Jamboni, less than a kilometre from where a village mart was in progress, villagers saw two men covered with dust and guns slung on their shoulders. “We knew who they were and drifted to a distance. They went to a thatched shed where hanria (a local brew) was being sold, took a cycle and pedalled away,” said Basanta Tudu (name changed).

A police officer said the extremists who planted the mine fled towards a forest in Barikul in adjoining Bankura, about 6 km from Hatidoba. “We are combing Sarengi and Barikul in that district,” he added.