14 policemen killed in daring Maoist strikes in Orissa

February 16th, 2008 - 8:30 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

Bhubaneswar/New Delhi, Feb 16 (IANS) In the most daring strike so far this year, Maoist rebels shot dead 14 policemen in multiple attacks on police stations and a government armoury in Orissa’s Nayagarh district Friday night, and escaped with hundreds of police rifles and boxes of ammuntion. More than 500 armed Maoists, including women cadre, swooped down on three police stations, a government armoury, a police training centre and some police posts, taking the police completely unawares in a well-coordinated operation just 85 km from the state capital.

S.K. Upadhyay, inspector general of the region, told IANS: “About 30 percent of the raiding rebels consisted of women, mostly young girls.”

He said the Maoists looted hundreds of police weapons and boxes of ammunition, mostly Self Loading Rifles and sophisticated weapons, kept in the armoury and police stations.

While the Maoists virtually lay siege to Nayagarh town for more than three hours, they continued their attack in the other places till early Saturday. The area is not known for Maoist activity.

One group of rebels attacked the district police headquarter at Nayagarh as well as a nearby armoury and police training centre around 10.30 p.m. Other groups of Maoists barged into police stations at nearby Daspalla and Nuagaon towns, attacked policemen and looted weapons, said Rajesh Kumar, Nayagarh district police chief.

At least 14 people, including 13 policemen, were killed during the shootout between policemen and Maoists. The 14th victim was a civilian caught in the crossfire. Four people were injured. One of the injured died in hospital later.

Responding to the bold attacks, six battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which has been in the vanguard of anti-Maoist operations, fanned out in various directions across the district and adjacent areas hours after the attack.

The home ministry said in New Delhi that a helicopter was being provided to help in search operations and a team of the elite Greyhound forces of Andhra Pradesh has been sent to the state.

“This is a well-planned attack and obviously a clear attempt to show us in poor light,” admitted a senior Intelligence Bureau (IB) official in New Delhi.

In Delhi, union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, fresh from his visit to Chhattisgarh, another Maoist hotspot, condemned the attack and sent a high-level team led by Special Secretary (Internal Security) M.L. Kumawat to hold detailed discussions with the state government on further action.

“I condemn the Naxal (Maoist) attack which took place at Nayagarh in Orissa yesterday, and condole the death of 14 policemen and a civilian in the incident. I convey my sympathies to the kin of the deceased and pray for speedy recovery of the injured,” Patil said in a statement.

Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta was in touch with state Chief Secretary Ajit Kumar Tripathi on the situation.

Interestingly, the attacks come a day after Shivraj Patil’s trip to Chhattisgarh capital Raipur, where he announced that a unified command would be constituted in the state for better coordination among security forces to check Maoist rebels.

Proof that the attacks were meticulously planned was seen in the way the rebels sealed all entry and exit points of the town to prevent the movement of vehicles during their operation. They even sealed the entry to the district police chief’s residence.

“A combing operation is going on to nab the Maoists. We have deployed about 600 policemen in the affected areas,” said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

This is the most daring attack by the Maoist rebels after a jailbreak in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district - the epicentre of the Maoist rebellion - where nearly 300 prisoners along with Maoists escaped in December last year.

And like in Chhattisgarh, the paucity of policemen to counter the rebels proved their undoing in Orissa as well, as the police were hopelessly outnumbered, said police sources.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often lamented at various platforms that inadequate, ill-equipped and poorly-motivated personnel could not take on the leftist extremists who were increasingly better equipped and organised.

The attack had its immediate repercussions as the Orissa assembly was adjourned Saturday for two hours after the opposition vociferously protested the Maoist attack.

Speaker Maheswar Mohanty adjourned the assembly at 10.30 a.m. after the Congress led opposition created a pandemonium, demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Patnaik.

Opposition members alleged that the law and order situation in the state had worsened under Patnaik, who is also the home minister.

Patnaik who visited the area, announced compensation of Rs.1 million each for the families of the policemen killed and Rs.200,000 for the family of the civilian who died in the crossfire.

He also announced that the government would bear the medical expenses of all the injured.

But despite the seriousness of the offensive by Maoists, Patil denied that leftwing extremism was the single biggest security challenge to the country.

“I don’t think it (Maoist violence) is so. Now, don’t ask me to comment on my colleagues or what the prime minister said. You asked me for my opinion and I will give you my opinion,” Patil told a television channel Saturday in an interview.

A home department official said the attack is suspected to be the handiwork of Maoist leader Sabysachi Panda because he hails from Nayagarh district.

Though the number of violent incidents blamed on the Maoists fell from 1,509 in 2006 to 1,285 until Oct 31, 2007, the number of security personnel killed by them rose from 157 last year to 188 until the end of October 2007.

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