Rag-tag police beat retreat

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  • Published 21.06.09

Goaltore, June 20: When all eyes were set on elite troopers marching through a most dreaded forest without any challenge this afternoon, the guerrillas were pummelling a group of ill-equipped state police personnel on another front.

A rebel attack took the force by surprise at the same place — 6km west of Goaltore on the road to Lalgarh — where their advance had been repulsed last evening.

A jawan took three bullets, and splinters from a landmine hit four policemen, between Tinboni and Kadashole.

About 140 men from the Eastern Frontier Rifles were leading the march on the road that cuts through paddy fields around 4.15pm when bandanna-wrapped heads could be seen to the left. But bereft of binoculars, the police could see just the heads and not the rifles lying at the men’s feet, caught on the telescopic cameras of the trailing journalists.

When the heads started moving one by one, the police mistook them for those of retreating villagers. After the movement stopped, the police realised the enemy had taken position. Then arrows started raining on the policemen on the road, mostly armed with shields and batons.

The few who had rifles asked their officers if they should fire, but one of the three additional superintendents leading the march ordered tear-gas shelling.

In reply to the tear gas came bullets. The heads were now closing in on the police, who were running for cover, when the landmine went off.

At one point, the entire force had gone into hiding leaving the additional superintendents to fend for themselves.

However, the force regrouped and returned fire from the roof of a forest office and a three-storey building on the outskirts of Tinboni, about 400 metres from the enemy line.

The police’s retaliatory fire became stronger with the arrival of reinforcements around 5.30pm and the gun battle continued for an hour.

As night fell, the forces withdrew to Goaltore but one of the additional superintendents claimed the Maoists had suffered heavier blows than the police. “We saw six of them being carried away. They must be dead,” he said.

Elsewhere, the march through the Jhitka forest, led by a minesweeper, flanked by the Cobras and tailed by a long line of cops, ended in Lalgarh almost uneventfully.

Kadashole, about 30km from Lalgarh, proved the battle had just begun. The challenge would be to flush out the guerrillas and their supporters from the surrounding villages.

Those injured today included jawan Tarun Pyne, who was hit by bullets in his right hand and leg, ASI Dipak Pandey (splinter in right hand) and jawans Amit Sasmal (splinter in the groin) and Sandip Dutta (splinter in the right wrist).

The four policemen injured in yesterday’s blast near Pirakata were brought to Calcutta. SDPO Amit Javalgi and his security guard Ajit Pal, 36, need surgery to repair their perforated eardrums. Liaqat Ali, 49, who drives Javalgi’s jeep, has splinters in his head.