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Maoists massacre 76 troopers, government fumes

Wednesday, April 07, 2010 06:34:36 AM, IANS

Raipur/New Delhi: India’s sweeping anti-Maoist offensive suffered a huge blow Tuesday when the Leftwing guerrillas ambushed and massacred 76 security personnel in the dense forests of Chhattisgarh in the worst such attack since the Maoist rebellion erupted 43 years ago.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh voiced concern over the unprecedented massacre after hundreds of Maoists trapped over 80 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel on a hilly stretch in Dantewada district and went on a killing spree using pressure bombs and automatic weapons.

In no time, at least 75 CRPF men and a Chhattisgarh police officer lay dead in the inhospitable area in the heart of the country where the rebels have run a de facto state for decades, enlisting the support of a large number of impoverished tribals.

As the besieged men lost radio contact with Raipur, about 450 km away, authorities rushed helicopters, one of which came under fire. Only seven men survived the brutal and well-planned attack, barely two days after Home Minister P. Chidamabaram dubbed the Maoists cowards.

In no time, security experts, including Chhattisgarh’s former security advisor K.P.S. Gill, who crushed Sikh separatist militancy in Punjab in 1993, hit out at the state government’s flawed anti-Maoist offensive.

“There has obviously been some element of failure in the operation,” admitted a candid Home Secretary G.K. Pillai. “This incident should not have happened.”

He said all the weapons of the CRPF personnel were taken away by the Maoists, who used pressure bombs with devastating effect. But he said the government would not use air power against the Maoists.

Ramesh, a badly wounded trooper who was brought to Raipur, recalled the horror that engulfed the 62nd battalion of the CRPF as it proceeded slowly through the forests in Chintalnar area after their vehicle was suddenly blown up.

“It was a flash attack,” the man told IANS at the Ram Krishna Care Hospital. “I saw scores of my colleagues in a pool of blood. Maoists were spraying bullets on us.”

In New Delhi, Manmohan Singh convened a high-level meeting. The prime minister has repeatedly said that the Maoists have become India’s greatest internal security threat.

The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), which has repeatedly spurned government offers of talks, has gone on a killing spree in recent months despite a sweeping security crackdown under way in eastern India.

A sombre Chidambaram said the CPRF walked into a Maoist trap.

“Something has gone very wrong,” he said. “They seem to have walked into a trap set by the Naxalites. This shows the savage nature of the CPI-Maoist, the brutality and savagery they are capable of.”

Gill, also a former Punjab police chief, described the anti-Maoist operation in Chhattisgarh as “flawed”. “It has been a flawed operation, it still is,” said Gill. “Their basic concept is flawed.”

Other experts said the dead men Tuesday violated the basic principles of anti-insurgency drive by moving in large numbers, providing an easy target for the Maoist People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA).

“There is a clear-cut instruction for paramilitary as well as police a week’s time not to use vehicles for any offensive in forested interiors. They are to go only on foot and not in groups,” said one officer. “The CRPF men grossly neglected the manuals and finally paid the price.”

While Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar blamed the killings on intelligence failure, Chief Minister Raman Singh said: “We need to review our strategy every day. We need to have better coordination.”

Chhattisgarh’s mineral rich Bastar region has 40,000 sq km of land area but is among the poorest in India in economic development. Bastar has seen a string of deadly attacks since 2005 that has left over 1,600 dead.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules Chhattisgarh, called for an “all-out offensive” against the Maoists and said it will support the government in its bid to root out the extremist challenge. Tuesday’s massacre was the worst in Chhattisgarh after March 2007 when the rebels slaughtered 55 policemen.

Officials said close to 5,000 policemen, militants and poor villagers have died in in the last years since the Maoists upped their anti-state offensive. Nearly 70,000 paramilitary troopers and policemen have been deployed in the anti-rebel crackdown.






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