How he survived a deadly Maoist ambush - a boatman recounts

July 1st, 2008 - 2:02 pm ICT by IANS  

By Jatindra Dash
Chitrakonda (Orissa), July 1 (IANS) He is one of those who has lived to tell the terrible tale. With 35 security personnel and a boatman still missing after a Maoist ambush two days ago, Manoranjan Dey counts himself lucky as he recounts how he swam to safety and negotiated with the attackers. One person was killed, at least 10 Greyhound personnel were injured and as many as 35 were missing after Maoists Sunday ambushed the police patrol which was crossing the Balimela reservoir in Malkangiri district to return to Andhra Pradesh after taking part in joint operations with the police force of Orissa.

“I cannot forget those moments,” said Dey, one of the only 29 survivors in the attack by dozens of armed Maoist insurgents, considered one of the deadliest attacks by rebels in the state this year.

“It was around 8.30 a.m. when we started our journey in the motor launch. About two hours later there was a gunshot and one bullet hit our boat,” Dey told a few journalists in the town near the reservoir.

Dey, an assistant in the vessel, said the personnel from the elite Greyhound commandoes, set up specially to fight Maoists in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, retaliated.

“The way Maoists were raining bullets, we were left with only three options — drown because the boat was certainly going to capsize, be shot to death or jump in the water,” he said.

“Some fought back but the vessel was damaged and we had to jump from the boat. But the firing did not end. Thank god no bullets hit me.”

He said the spot was a narrow waterway between two hills. “I started swimming towards the shore shouting that I was a civilian and pleaded with them to save my life as I had no enmity with them.”

It helped, Dey added simply.

“They stopped firing at me and asked me to swim towards them.” After that, the group of rebels tore his clothes to tie his hands and cover his eyes. They provided him food and released him in the evening.

“I promised them that I would not help police and started my return journey again in the water when it was dark,” Dey recalled with a shudder.

After swimming about four-five kilometres, he saw a boat that pulled him to safety. It was about 8 p.m. when he walked to Chitrakonda town from the shore.

According to Orissa Director General of Police Gopal Chandra Nanda, there were 66 people on board the vessel that capsized in the reservoir. Of them, 61 security personnel were from Andhra Pradesh, two were Orissa police constables and three were employees of the vessel.

Only 29 have been accounted for — including two boat employees and the two Orissa constables, said deputy inspector general of police of the region Sajib Panda.

“The body of only one Greyhound commando has been recovered from the area on Sunday. His hands were tied and he had bullet injuries. Thirty-six people are still missing,” Panda told IANS.

Of the survivors, 10 have bullet wounds and are undergoing treatment, he said.

“The water level in the reservoir where the vessel was grounded is over 80 feet and we have been unable to spot the vessel,” Panda said, adding that some policemen were inside the cabin when the boat capsized and all are missing.

The fear is that they might all be dead, admitted Nitin Bhanudas Jawale, district magistrate of Malkangiri.

More than 1,000 security, defence and police personnel, both from Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, are searching for the victims. A large numbers of security forces are also combing the area to hunt down the Maoists.

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