Maoists hold out against forces on day 2 of Lalgarh operation (Roundup)

June 19th, 2009 - 11:38 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram Lalgarh (West Bengal), June 19 (IANS) Maoist rebels put up stiff resistance to the advancing security forces in Lalgarh, carrying out surprise attacks and engaging them in heavy gunbattles on the second day of a massive operation launched by the West Bengal government to free the area of the leftwing radicals.
Two security personnel were injured in a landmine blast.

The rebels dug roads, burnt bridges and felled trees in the area, forcing the central and state police personnel to use firearms and slowed down their march to retake the rebel-held area in West Midnapore district. The forces also made baton charges and lobbed tear gas shells to chase the rebels.

The state government used surveillance helicopters to watch over rebel movement in the area and also air-dropped leaflets written in Bengali and the tribal Alchiki script, asking people of Lalgarh not to fall into the Maoists’ trap to use women and children as human shields.

A landmine blast occurred in the evening at Pirakata bazaar, an area reclaimed by the forces from the rebels Thursday. Two policemen in a vehicle that hit the landmine were injured. “Both suffered splinter injuries in the low-intensity blast,” an official said.

After a relatively easy day Thursday, the central and state security personnel who had set up camp near West Midnapore district’s Jhitka jungle - believed to be a Maoist den - were somewhat taken aback when the Maoists rushed in from the paddy fields to an area where the forces had halted Thursday night and started firing.

As the firing began, the forces immediately started retracing their steps for a couple of kilometres, to Pirrhakhuli - where they were attacked by another group of well-armed Maoists, accompanied by about 100 members of their associate People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA). Attacked from the rear, the police seemed trapped, as the Jhitka jungle is also believed to be heavily mined.

The rebels fired from the paddy fields, and some nearby houses for about an hour before fleeing, said Inspector General of state police (Law and Order) Raj Kanojia. “It was long range fire. I have not received any report of casualties,” he told IANS.

Seven arrests were made from Goaltor in the same district, Kanojia said.

Some journalists saw Maoists planting mines at Koima, an area reclaimed by the security forces Thursday night.

The security forces have been advancing from four directions towards Lalgarh, 200 km from Kolkata, where the Maoist guerrillas have been active in organising a tribal movement alongside the tribal body PCAPA.

Apart from the main contingent at Bhimpur, three other teams are moving from Jhargam and Goaltor in West Midnapore district and Sarenga in Bankura.

The group which started from Sarenga police station, faced a stiff challenge at Kargil More of Pingboni, where the Maoists tried to obstruct them by digging roads, burning a road bridge and felling a large number of trees.

The security forces also had to contend with a human wall at Sarenga and used tear gas and batons to break the wall of protestors.

The Sarenga offensive was halted for the day and the forces are waiting for reinforcements.

In Kolkata, Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen claimed that some top Maoists leaders including their politburo member Kishanjee alias K. Koteshwar Rao may have fled Lalgarh.

Sen also told reporters that the state government had asked the centre for more forces.

The top bureaucrat, briefing mediapersons after day-long meetings of a core group set up to monitor the security operations, parried a question on how long the operation will continue, saying “We have not set any target”.

In New Delhi, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that the West Bengal government should ban the Left extremist outfit, Communist Party of India-Maoist, which has declared the state’s Lalgarh area a “liberated zone”.

“No one can understand why the Communist Party of India-Maoist has not been banned (by West Bengal),” he told reporters after a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“We are dealing with a situation in which a militant organisation is challenging the writ of the civil administration. We are engaged in an operation to re-establish the civil authority,” Chidambaram maintained.

Lalgarh has been on the boil since last November when a landmine exploded on the route of the convoy of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and then central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada.

Complaining of police atrocities after the blast, the angry tribals launched an agitation virtually cutting off the area from the rest of the district.

During the last few days, the agitators have torched CPI-M offices, driven away the party’s supporters and forced the police to leave, thereby establishing a virtual free zone.

Maoists have been active in the three western districts of the state - West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. They also backed the Trinamool-sponsored movement against the state government’s bid to establish a chemical hub at Nandigram in East Midnapore district.

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