Joint forces draw first blood but rebels show fight thirst
Khuntar (Purulia), Nov. 15: Two Maoists were killed in the first full-scale assault by joint forces since the Mamata Banerjee government took over, mirroring the dramatic escalation in hostilities a few hours after the rebels ended a ceasefire and provoked the chief minister to resume operations.
The joint forces have now laid siege to the Ayodhya Hills, a rebel haven whose forest offers safe passage to Jharkhand and cover for supplies from hideouts there.
"We have blocked the way to the Ayodhya Hills. We want to cut off supplies to the squad. We are trying not to let them slip back in the dense forest," an officer said.
The operation, which took place when the security forces pursued suspected Maoists who killed two Trinamul supporters last night, also served to underscore how the rebels, who were once on the back foot, are no longer so.
Despite losing two fighters — the first confirmed rebel casualties since the new government took over — the Maoists opened fire on the forces at daybreak during a combing operation.
Last night's encounter was a throwback to the tense weeks of June 2009 when the joint operations were launched to establish a circle of domination in Lalgarh and other Maoist-affected areas.
Two members of the Maoist action squad team that shot dead two Trinamul supporters in Khuntar village last night were gunned down during the two-hour encounter from 11pm.
The bodies of the two Maoists in their mid-thirties, identified by police as Biren and Subal, were found in the Duarshini forest in the foothills of Ayodhya Hills this morning.
"Biren was Bidyut Singh Sardar, who hailed from Ghatbera near Khuntar. Subal was from Jharkhand and we are trying to get more details about him," a police officer said.
During the combing operation that included about 32 COBRA commandos this morning, the Maoists opened fire and injured two jawans belonging to the India Reserve Battalion of Nagaland. Masi Byco and Karket Suni were rushed to Purulia district hospital and later taken to a private hospital in Ranchi.
The initial plan was to fly the jawans to Calcutta, about 300km away, but rain forced the police to take them to Ranchi by road, a police officer said.
"We found two rifles, a double-barrel gun and a 9mm pistol within yards from the bodies of the two rebels. We brought in sniffer dogs to look for injured Maoists and stumbled upon half-a-dozen ladies' sandals and dupattas," the officer said.
Inspector-general of police (western range) G. Singh, who visited the encounter site this morning, said the Maoists belonged to the Ayodhya Hills squad and were led by Ranjit Pal.
"The squad had about 15 persons and at least five were women. During the encounter, the joint forces used mortars and we suspect that a number of Maoists were injured," Singh said.
Another officer said that after some villagers had informed the police of the Maoist attack at Khuntar last night, two teams rushed to the place.
"One team of joint forces went from a camp about 3km from Khuntar and another went from the Balarampur police station. There were about 300 personnel in all. We knew that the Maoists would have to cross the Duarshini forest to reach the Ayodhya hills. So the forces divided themselves into two groups and began moving towards the forest guarding both the left and the right flanks. Soon after entering the forest, shots were fired at us. An encounter followed," the officer said.