Gun battle begins - Maoists attack symbol of surrender

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  • Published 20.06.09

Bhimpur, June 19: Lalgarh police station, the locked-up symbol of the state’s surrender to Maoists, came under attack tonight, capping a day on which security forces were locked in a gun battle and a police jeep was blown up.

Armed guerrillas opened fire on the police station in which around 150 policemen have locked themselves up since the area was declared out of bounds for law-enforcement agencies last November.

Although the police station was at the mercy of the rebels all these months, this is the first time they have launched an attack, probably in response to the deployment of security forces who are now around 9km from the town.

Around 9pm, a shot rang out from a forest behind the police station. The policemen, who had been allowed till now to step out through a small door to replenish supplies but barred from discharging their duty, took position and returned fire, according information reaching Bhimpur, the staging post of the security forces, late tonight.

Police sources said at least 18 rounds were exchanged. There was no report of any injury.

In the evening, after the firing during the day had be-en quelled and the road from Pirakata to Bhimpur cleared of boulders and “captured” again, an improvised explosive device blew up a police jeep.

Two security guards and the driver were injured in the blast at Kalitala, a desolate place near Pirakata. The condi- tion of the driver is said to be critical.

The jeep is used by the subdivisional police officer of Domkol, Murshidabad, but he was not in it as he was overseeing operations elsewhere.

A short while later, the police twice heard something that sounded like blasts at Bhimpur and were trying to find out till late tonight if a culvert had been blown up.

“Pirakata is the base from where we get our supplies,” an official said. “So it is imperative the culverts stay in place.”

“We have to be much more careful in our advance towards Lalgarh,” said a police officer. “We must not fall into the trap of venturing into the fields, which are heavily mined.”

In an operation carried out over nearly three hours yesterday, security forces had lobbed tear-gas shells and baton charged villagers to take control of an 8km stretch of the road from Pirakata to Bhimpur. They set up camps at Koima and Tirlakhali, a few kilometres before Bhimpur, and patrolled the area through the night.

However, the force wound up the camps and moved up to Bhimpur this morning, leaving the stretch unguarded.

Taking advantage of this, the Maoists and the villagers put up blockades at five points from Malida to Tirlakhali.

When the police went to remove them, guerrillas hiding in the fields opened fired.

Although the firing was intermittent, the scene resembled a battlefield. Over a hundred CRPF and state police personnel exchanged fire with the Maoists at Tirlakhali, lying on the ground, taking cover behind small huts and buildings and crawling on paddy fields.

At the Malida end, two companies of the BSF, which were to join the rest of the force at Bhimpur, got engaged in the battle even though they were yet to be formally deployed.

However, at the end of three hours of firing, there were no casualties.

By evening, the police were in control of the stretch again, this time with the BSF carrying out area-domination.

Once the BSF took over patrolling, some CRPF as well as state police personnel returned to the Pirakata camp as the one at Bhimpur was yet to be made a “base camp”.

This morning, however, it appeared the police would proceed to Lalgarh as had been said yesterday. DIG (Midna- pore range) Praveen Kumar as well as West Midnapore superintendent of police Manoj Verma arrived at the Bhimpur camp and held a series of meetings to chalk out strategy.

“Two kilometres after the Bhimpur camp start the Jhitka jungles,” an officer said.

“The terrain is very different from the 8km we have covered and we suspect many armed Maoists are hiding in the jungles, ready to fire.”

At 1pm, 40 personnel of the CRPF’s Cobra unit arrived at Bhimpur. Its personnel, who are meant to fight the guerrillas the way guerrillas fight their war, were all in plain clothes, apparently to confuse the Maoists and make them think they are common people or even part of the rebel ranks.

The Cobra force was meant to move into the jungles and sanitise them while others moved along the metalled road. Instead, they only inspected a 2km stretch from the Bhimpur camp to the Jhitka jungles. “Let us see if we can push ahead tomorrow,” an officer said.