HOMELAND SECURITY: 26 jawans killed in Maoist massacre belt – the vicious battle continues without boundaries, an eye for an eye ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY SHEENA K AND NISHIT DHOLABHAI
June 29: Maoists today gunned down 26 CRPF personnel in a daylight ambush from a hilltop in Chhattisgarh, the second massacre of central forces in the same state in less than three months.
The afternoon attack took place in Dhaurai in Narayanpur district, which borders Maharashtra and falls at one tip of the Maoist-infested Bastar region. The site is 200km from Dantewada, where 75 CRPF jawans were slaughtered on April 6 and which is located at the other end of Bastar.
Today’s strike means that the Maoists have book-ended the Bastar corridor with two massacres of central forces. The Centre’s initial response this evening suggested that it had factored in such casualties and could be bracing for more as a security offensive winds its way through treacherous terrain.
The slain jawans were part of a road-opening party that was apparently moving on foot, the recommended way of travel in Maoist-infested areas that are usually mined to blow up vehicles.
However, the jawans appear to have walked into a trap as the rebels were lying in wait on elevated terrain that offered a clean line of fire.
A senior official in the police headquarters in Raipur said: “As of now, we have reports that 26 jawans have been killed while over six have been injured.” Among the casualties was an assistant commandant, Jatin Gulati.
The team of 63 CRPF jawans, personnel of the special task force of Chhattisgarh police and special police officers had set out from a police station in the morning for sanitising a road in the area. The jawans were from the 39th battalion of the CRPF.
The Maoists struck around 3pm when the jawans were on their way back. The guerrillas opened fire when the jawans reached a canal 3km from the police station. It is not clear how the rebels, said to have numbered around 90, could amass so close to a police station without being noticed.
Although the area has thick forest cover, Narayanpur is a hot-button Maoist territory and security forces are supposed to be on their toes round the clock. The forces have come under attack in this belt on a number of occasions.
The jawans today had little time to respond or take cover. Within minutes, the Maoists had inflicted heavy casualties and fled before the force could take position. However, a PTI report said the security forces did return fire.
A measure of the lackadaisical response of the civilian leadership was available in the evening when chief minister Raman Singh convened an “emergency” meeting at his residence to take stock of the situation. State home minister Nankiram Kanwar was not present when the meeting started, apparently because he was performing a puja at his residence.
In New Delhi, the home ministry gave a measured reaction to the ambush, indicating a departure from the high-octane political response that followed the Dantewada massacre. “This was expected in retaliation (to security operations against the Maoists),” said a senior home ministry official.
The government has more or less come to terms with an assessment that there would be casualties when tackling insurgents. On April 6, alarmed by the scale of the Dantewada massacre, home minister P. Chidambaram had rushed to Chhattisgarh and offered to resign. The CRPF director-general is likely to visit the state tomorrow.
The ambush occurred while CRPF director-general Vikram Srivastava was holding discussions with Chidambaram on consolidating the central force in Maoist-affected states. The Centre has decided to make some administrative changes to streamline co-ordination. Four specialised posts will be created.
The Centre has been focusing on strengthening central forces after the military expressed its reluctance to get directly involved. But the army-headed Assam Rifles could be pressed in once the defence ministry gives the go-ahead.
The Centre is likely to push states to further strengthen local police and intelligence facilities for the paramilitary forces to be more effective.
The ambush is also expected to further cloud the fate of some peace overtures made by a Maoist spokesperson last month through Swami Agnivesh.
Guerrillas kill schoolboy – desperation or plain viciousness ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Midnapore, June 29: Maoists abducted a 16-year-old boy on his way to school, shot him dead and branded him a police informer in West Midnapore’s Belpahari, an apparent act of desperation after being hit by police several times in the past few weeks.
Class X student Fulchand Mahato was found with bullets in his head and chest near a waterfall in the mountainous Kashmar village, about 2km from his home.
He was missing since leaving for school — 10km away — on a cycle yesterday.
This is the first instance of the rebels killing a schoolboy in Bengal. “The brutality shows how badly cornered and desperate the Maoists are,” said Jhargram superintendent of police Praveen Tripathi.
The Maoists are now doing things they earlier did not (see chart). A string of arrests since the May 28 Jnaneswari tragedy that killed 150 people, encounter deaths of at least nine guerrillas and a series of close shaves have apparently made the rebels resort to tactics that suggest a panic reaction.
They burnt alive the 80-year-old mother and 55-year-old sister of a CPM leader in Bankura last Wednesday. They have snatched phones from villagers suspecting moles among them.
A poster on a tree today announced that Fulchand was lying dead near the waterfall.
A joint force team traced the body. A poster left near it said he had been “given the death penalty for being a police informer”.
“His mother waited till last evening but he did not return home. Then she contacted Fulchand’s father through a relative,” said a neighbour at Jamirdiha, 275km from Calcutta
His father Srinath has been living away from home out of fear because he is a CPM supporter. Fulchand’s uncle had been shot dead by the Maoists in February 2008.
The Mahatos are traditionally CPM supporters, the neighbour said. But why should a 16-year-old become a target for his family’s political allegiance? That the Maoists know.
To escape their wrath, Fulchand’s elder brother Madhu had last year become a supporter of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities. “He quit the outfit a few months later and fled home with his father,” an officer said.
Madhu now lives in Purulia’s Bandwan, 50km from home, and Srinath with relatives elsewhere in Belpahari.
Fulchand stayed with his mother Rinku.
Srinath was at the police station today when the joint force team called up to say they had found the body. “The father fainted,” an officer said.
When he regained consciousness, Srinath said he should have stayed at home. “Then they would have killed me but spared Fulchand.”
Maoist leaders held in city – does this end the entire insurgency here ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH STAFF REPORTER
Calcutta, June 29: Five Maoists, including a state committee member and a zonal committee leader, were arrested from the southern outskirts of Calcutta in an operation that stretched from late last night to early this morning.
Of the five, four were active in and ar-ound Nandigram. The police said their “prize catch”, 44-year-old state committee member Madhusudan Mandal, was involved in the murder of Trinamul’s Sonachura gram panchayat chief Nishikanta Mandal last year.
“Madhusudan, who is from Haldia, is our biggest catch since the arrest of Telugu Deepak,” said CID inspector-general P. Nirajnayan. “He is a close associate of Deepak, also a CPI (Maoist) state committee member. The two had been tasked with spreading the Maoist base in Nandigram.”
Among those arrested was Sachin Ghoshal, 43, from Bagnan, Howrah, who allegedly “provided technical and logistical support to the members of the outfit”.
The police tracked them with the help of telephone intercepts. “We came to know Madhusudan and 19-year-old Rajesh Mandal will meet Sachin at Amtala in South 24-Parganas,” an officer said.
Sachin has been on the police’s radar for almost a year. “Our officers had rented a house near his Bagnan home,” an officer said. A team decided to tail him last night with the hope of closing in on some others as well. “He took a local train to Howrah and from there a bus bound for Amtala.”
When Sachin met two others, the police did not know how to confirm their identities. “We did not have Madhusudan’s photographs but knew he had six fingers on his right hand,” an officer said. “Count confirmed, we swooped down.”
The police found out that young Raj- esh actually worked for his father Sanjay. Rajesh’s father and Nandigram zonal committee member Siddhartha Mandal stayed in a rented house in Garia.
Early this morning, the police picked up Sanjay and Siddhartha from Garia.
“Sanjay had helped Khejuri resident Siddhartha get a job in a Sonarpur factory,” said Nirajnayan.
State police chief Bhupinder Singh described them as significant arrests. All five have been booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Bapi Mahato, the prime accused in Jnaneswari Express sabotage case, recorded his statement in front of a magistrate at the CBI’s special court today.
Tussle over Assam Rifles – friends of the hills to counter Bengal’s problems, CRPF & EFR sacrifices not good enough ?!!
BY NISHIT DHOLABHAI
New Delhi, June 29: The home ministry wants the Assam Rifles, the country’s oldest paramilitary force that guards the Myanmar border, to be deployed for counter-insurgency operations in central India.
Ministry sources said a note was being prepared to be sent to the cabinet committee on security to push the proposal amid mounting CRPF casualties at the hands of Maoists.
“Why can’t we use the Assam Rifles? They are a paramilitary force so they can be used anywhere, not just the north-eastern region,” said a ministry source.
The call to re-deploy the force — described as “friends of the hill people” by an anthropologist — has coincided with a BSF projection of adding 40 more battalions to its existing 159 to replace the Assam Rifles at India’s eastern-most border.
“We are ready, that is all I can say,” said a BSF source, adding that the force would discuss the issue at its ongoing quarterly meeting.
Behind the call to re-deploy the Assam Rifles is the tussle between the home ministry and the defence ministry over who would control the force, which is headed by army officers and has 46 battalions under two divisions. Another 20-odd battalions are to be raised.
The re-deployment idea was floated after the home ministry proposed that 20 Assam Rifles battalions should guard the borders but under its control.
Defence minister A.K. Antony has apparently rejected Chidambaram’s proposal.
But Chidambaram is said to be determined to change the Assam Rifles charter of duty that has remained limited to the north-eastern region for more than a century now.
The defence ministry, however, is not ready to give up operational control over the force. “This duality has been a problem for years now and has to be sorted out,” said a senior home ministry official.
Although the force was brought under the administrative control of the home ministry after 1965, it remains under the operational command of the army.
So both ministries have to agree for any change of responsibilities for the force that can trace its lineage to a paramilitary police force formed under the British in 1835.