HOMELAND SECURITY: Civilian Slaughter – 35 killed in Maoist hit on passenger bus – and again and again, a nation at war with itself ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY SHEENA K.
Raipur, May 17: At least 35 people, many of them civilians, were killed in Dantewada today when Maoists for the first time blew up a passenger bus in which home-grown security personnel were travelling in violation of the rulebook.
The Chhattisgarh massacre suggests the Maoists no longer distinguish between civilians and security personnel as long as a few policemen can be killed.
Among the dead were 24 civilians and 11 security personnel, dubbed special police officers (SPOs). The LTTE-style attack on the bus was triggered around 4.30pm in Chingawaram, about 40km from Dantewada town from where the vehicle had rolled out three hours earlier.
The SPOs are villagers recruited and trained by the state government to fight the Maoist guerrillas in the densely forested terrain of the Bastar region. As many as 25 of them, returning from a search operation, had boarded the bus though they are supposed to move only on foot through Naxalite-affected areas.
At least 14 SPOs and a woman are being treated for wounds at the government hospital in Sukma, a small town on the Orissa border where the bus was headed.
The attack came six weeks after Maoists massacred 76 CRPF jawans near Chintalnaar in Dantewada.
The bus, owned by a private transport company, was ferrying about 55-60 people when the landmine, planted on the state highway cutting through the dense forests, was set off.
The bus (registration number CG 17 SS 9295) was flung about 20 feet high, a senior police officer said. Some of the bodies were tossed so high that they got trapped among branches of trees. The explosion created a crater about 10 feet in diameter.
Sources said the front of the bus bore the impact of the explosion. “Had the blast occurred a fraction of a second later, the vehicle could have been blown up from the middle and the casualties could have been much more,” a security expert said.
Dantewada superintendent of police Amresh Kumar had passed through the spot 10 minutes earlier. Sources said the Maoists appeared to have targeted the SPOs to warn locals against joining in the battle.
Reports from the site said several bodies are trapped in the mangled remains of the vehicle. “It would take hours to extricate the bodies by cutting the metal,” an officer said.
The 25 SPOs boarded the bus somewhere on the way, possibly to hitch a ride though the standard operating procedure prohibits them from doing so in civilian vehicles. Sources said these locals-turned-Maoist hunters often travel by bus as they are too tired to make the journey by foot.
Unconfirmed reports said a few of these officers, armed with weapons like Insas rifles, were sitting on the roof of the bus.
The rebels appear to have taken a leaf out of the LTTE manual. Like the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, the Maoists had dug a tunnel on either side of the road to reach the concrete top from below to plant the landmine, security officers said.
“In this way, they do not disturb the crust so as to avoid any suspicion. The signs of dredging on the sides of a road can be easily wiped off,” an officer said. The device must have been planted days before.
Four years ago, the Maoists had blown up 28 villagers returning in a truck after an anti-rebel peace march specifically associated with the Salwa Judum, a government-sponsored vigilante force. The Salwa Judum has since been disbanded.
On death road, a clear message: civilians are no longer immune – to continue, Dogs of War ?!!
BY SUJAN DUTTA
New Delhi, May 17: Monday’s Maoist attack on a busload of police and civilians occurred on a road that is known to pass through rebel territory and is frequently used by the security forces for supplies and reinforcements.
Driving to Sukma and beyond a day after the April 6 killing of 76 policemen was risky. Even before that killing, National Highway 221, from Konta near the Andhra border through Sukma to Jagdalpur, and the smaller roads that lead from it into the forests were known as a kind of “death road”.
At night, gangs of drunken tribal youths, women among them, put up barricades and stop what little traffic passes through and demand money. At many places, trees are felled across the road — as in Lalgarh, only in larger numbers — and that makes the going slow.
The road is two-way, but narrow. It snakes its way through a reserve forest that is thick with sal trees. It also goes uphill and downhill.
At Sukma, the road is closest to the Orissa border after crossing the Indravati river. Orissa’s Malkangiri district, another rebel base, is just east of Sukma.
The administration and local people have known for a long time that the Maoists could attack the road almost at will. But they have also known that such an attack would most likely be on security forces because the Maoists would not want to lose influence in villages on either side of the road.
Monday’s attack, however, makes the brutal point that killing non-combatants is on the Maoist agenda in their reply to P. Chidambaram’s Green Hunt if such an attack will take the lives of a few policemen.
Indications are that the Maoists targeted the busload of special police officers (SPOs) after tracking them for some time.
The SPOs present a bigger threat to the Maoists than the paramilitary forces such as the CRPF. Unlike the constabulary of the paramilitary forces, Chhattisgarh’s SPOs are “home and hearth” cadre, often drawn from among the same tribes from which the Maoists recruit their rank and file.
In and around Sukma, one such SPO unit calls itself the “Koya Commandos”, Koya being the language they speak.
A Koya Commando who was in Mukram (where the CRPF men were killed) on April 7 as part of the forces who were securing the road for the visit of the director-general of police Viswa Ranjan to visit, took this correspondent around the village, identifying trees and implements. The SPOs know the terrain much better than the CRPF or even the State Armed Police.
Since the April 6 killings near Mukram, central forces have been told strictly that they are not to go on patrol without being escorted by the SPOs.
First, patrolling has become more infrequent since that bloodbath.
Second, after today’s targeting of the SPOs, the Maoists have sent out the message that they will go after the “special police” even at the cost of civilian lives.
Chhattisgarh and Dantewada have become more dangerous than they already were.
PC wants ‘limited mandate’ revisited – have listened to the ‘Air Chief’s advice’ on innocent lives ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU
New Delhi, May 17: Today’s Maoist assault turned to ammunition in the hands of Union home minister P. Chidambaram, who lost no time seeking an expansion of his mandate to include, among other measures, air power support for security forces.
Signs are that the security campaign against Maoists will turn more aggressive, at least in the immediate.
Initially stunned by the reverse, both the government and the Congress appeared to respond with renewed resolve to “fight off and resolutely defeat acts of terror against innocent people and against the state”.
Chidambaram, who was in a pre-scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when news of the Dantewada bus blast broke, told NDTV in an interview that he had requested the Prime Minister to “revisit” the “limited mandate” he had been given to meet the Maoist challenge.
A meeting of the cabinet committee on security (CCS) is being called soon to discuss a revision of strategy and the home ministry is hopeful it will get a “larger mandate” that includes a go-ahead to employ air support.
Chidambaram said he had the support of “all chief ministers” on the use of air power and even claimed the chief ministers of Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh had actively sought it in the past.
The home minister, whose security drive has been under attack from sections within his party, also fired tangentially at critics, telling the TV channel: “We have a two-pronged strategy (on tackling the Maoists)… both the Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are very clear on this…. But I concede that some discussion in recent weeks may have weakened one of the two prongs.” He also said civil society groups had “a lot to answer for today’s attack”.
Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh and Rajya Sabha member Mani Shankar Aiyar are among those who can be said to have “weakened one of the two prongs” of the government’s strategy with their open, and repeated, criticism of what they have often called the home minister’s “one-eyed” policy.
The sceptics feel the policy is too heavily accented on the security offensive and too little on development and socio-economic measures to address problems in the backward areas where Maoists have gained the upper hand.
Chidambaram — and his senior-most official G.K. Pillai — sought to project today’s blast as an illustration of the Maoists being “ruthless, indiscriminate killers” whom the state needs to neutralise.
“Naxalites don’t discriminate, only kill,” a sombre Chidambaram told the channel.
Briefing journalists around the same time, home secretary Pillai said: “The killing of civilians has been a hallmark of Naxalite violence over the years. They are known to have conducted condemnable killings of civilians even in the past. They have killed CPM workers and alleged police informers. Even if they were police informers, what is their crime? How can they kill people just because they are CPM workers?”
Justifying Chidambaram’s policy, the home secretary said the security grid was helping villages in Maoist-affected areas.
After the deployment of the BSF in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh, for instance, ration shops had reopened in villages and a tribal festival in Parthapur was held after 15 years, he said.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi tried to allay the sense that there was a division in the party on acting against Maoists. “Our resolve to root out such despicable acts is firm and unwavering. We also want all stake holders of the civil society to remain united in this fight,” Singhvi said.
Another party spokesperson, Manish Tiwari, said today’s incident had “exposed the barbarity of the Maoists who take a leaf out of Pol Pot’s book”.
Asked about the duality of the party’s approach, another senior Congress leader referred to the party president’s article in the latest issue of Congress organ Sandesh and said: “Sonia Gandhi wrote that acts of terror must be dealt with decisively and forcefully when she talked of targeted development in backward districts.”
Civil society groups feared the worst from the consequences of what is an exploding confrontation in south Chhattisgarh. Kavita Srivastava of the PUCL condemned today’s attack but alleged that through its policies, the government was “handing over entire populations to the Maoists”.
Raman seeks strategy relook – yes, please re-examine ‘culture of death’s vicious cycle’, so all can be ‘toothless & blind’ ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
Raipur, May 17 (PTI): Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh today said he would urge the Centre to re-examine its strategy to deal with Maoists in the wake of today’s attack in which several civilians died.
Hours after the Maoists blew up a bus, killing several people, Raman Singh said he would go to Delhi tomorrow to discuss the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“I will ask the Prime Minister to re-examine the strategy to deal with the Maoists. The way they are targeting civilians, we have to be prepared on that scale,” he said.
“The attacks on panchayat members and police personnel show that they want to demoralise the people and the security forces,” the chief minister added.
He said today’s attack had laid bare the desperation of the Maoists who were losing their support base. “This incident shows the cruel face of the Maoists. We have been saying this… that the rebels resort to such tactics when their support base finishes. The belief of people’s representatives and the local population in the Maoists is finished,” he said.
“There cannot be police personnel in every village.… There are 20,000 villages. The security forces are moving forward in various areas… they are getting trained. We hope that in the future, we will be able to enhance security in a better way.” Asked whether the army should be given control of Maoist-infested areas, he said “it is a different issue”.
He announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh for the kin of the civilian victims and Rs 5 lakh for the families of the special police officers.