Indian Maoists Overrun Police Camp in West Bengal
Posted by Ka Frank on February 19, 2010
This article appeared on BBC News on February 16, 2010.
India Maoist Rebels Kill 24 Troops in West Bengal
At least 24 troops were killed when armed Maoists attacked a camp of the paramilitary forces in India’s West Bengal state, officials said. Nearly 50 rebels on motorcycles encircled the camp of the Eastern Frontier Rifles (ERF) at Silda village on Monday and started firing on it. More fighters joined the assault on foot, firing from automatic weapons.
More than 6,000 people have died during the rebels’ 20-year fight for communist rule in many Indian states. The Indian government recently began a major offensive against the rebels in several states. Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist insurgency as India’s “greatest internal security challenge”. The rebels now have a presence in 223 of India’s 600-odd districts.
The camp was overrun by the Maoists after the troops put up brief initial resistance, district magistrate of West Midnapore district NS Nigam told the BBC. “The Maoists then burnt down the camp and planted landmines on the entire length of the road leading to the camp. Reinforcements with night vision and anti-landmine vehicles reached the camp late at night,” Mr Nigam said. At least 24 bodies have been recovered from in and around the camp and some of them are badly charred, he said.
The seriously injured troops were being taken to the state capital, Calcutta, for treatment. Officials said at least 12 soldiers were still missing.
It took four hours for reinforcements to reached Silda as there were landmines planted on the entire stretch of the road.
Police officials leading the reinforcements that reached Silda late at night said many of the paramilitary troops were shot dead by the rebels as they tried to escape the fire. West Bengal’s police chief Bhupinder Singh said there were nearly 50 ERF troops in the camp when the attack took place.
The Maoists pulled out of Silda after looting a huge amount of weapons from the camp’s armoury.
Chief of the rebels’ military wing, Koteswara Rao – alias Kishenji – claimed responsibility for the attack. He said this attack was the beginning of “Operation Peace Hunt”, the Maoist answer to the government “Operation Green Hunt” launched against the Maoists recently. “We are looking for peace but we are forced to fight and kill the poor troops of the government forces. We will mourn the death of those killed but the government is responsible for their death,” Kishenji told the BBC by phone from an undisclosed location.
The Maoist leader warned of more such attacks unless Operation Green Hunt was stopped.
Earlier this month Home Minister P Chidambaram held a meeting of four Maoist-affected states – West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa – in Calcutta. He threatened to intensify Operation Green Hunt if the rebels did not start talks by abjuring violence.
The Maoists said they would agree to talks if four of their senior leaders now in jail were released and Operation Green Hunt was halted. The government has not responded to that conditional overture.
Survivor of Maoist attack on security camp in West Bengal recalls the gory incident
One India, February 16, 2010
Shilda Village/ Pirakata (West Bengal): About 20-22 Maoists riding motorcycles stormed a camp of the para-military Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) and West Bengal Armed Police on Monday in Shilda village of West Bengal’s West Midnapore district and killed at least 24 security personnel by firing indiscriminately and also torched the camp on Monday (February 15).
Police said the ambush was on a camp in the state, 200 km (125 miles) west of the State capital Kolkata, in the same area where a major anti-Maoist offensive was launched last year.
Recalling the horror of the Maoist ambush at the camp, a survivor and personnel of Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) on Tuesday narrated the incident.
K Lamba, a personnel of Eastern Frontier Rifles, somehow managed to escape to a nearby forest when the rebels struck. He said that they were caught unaware when the rebels, including women cadres, who had come on motorbikes, launched an attack on them.
He, however, said the attackers were about 100 in total number. “There were at least 100 of them (Maoists) including a few women cadres. They set the camp on fire with kerosene. We were caught unaware when they started to fire on us,” said Lamba.
Dhaneswar Mahato, a local resident, in Pirakata, said: “I was sleeping after dinner when I heard a loud noise. Later when I went out in the morning I saw it was a landmine blast. Never saw something like this before.”
The Shilda camp of the joint-paramilitary forces in the Lalgarh area of West Midnapore district has been completely burnt down. Bhupinder Singh, Director General of Police (DGP), West Bengal, reached Shilda on Tuesday and inspected the camp site. The camp, 75 km from Midnapore town, housed about 50-odd jawans of the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR), participating in the joint-paramilitary operations against the Maoists in Lalgarh.
The bodies of the 24 jawans killed in the Maoist attack on the camp on Monday are still being recovered. Some of the bodies are charred while others have bullet wounds. Maoists had opened fire and then set the camp afire after looting arms and ammunition.
In June last year, police pushed back the rebels to regain control of Lalgarh, a cluster of 150 villages in the same West Midnapore area.
West Bengal Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh said the rebels took away a huge cache of weapons in the latest assault.
A rebel group leader, who calls himself as Kishenji, telephoned a Kolkata-based news channel to claim responsibility for the attack.
Meanwhile, Maoists also set off land mines in Bhatmore, Pirakata, Nimtala and Salboni in Midnapore district on late Monday night.
The Maoist rebellion began four decades ago, championing the cause of poor peasants in the east, but has now spread to about 20 of India’s 28 states, with the rebels targeting police and government property in hit-and-run attacks. After a resounding general election win in May last year, the government has decided to take on an estimated 22,000 Maoist rebels who hold sway over swathes of countryside.
Naxal Menace: All vulnerable camps to be relocated
Times of India, February 16, 2010
KOLKATA: The Silda massacre has sent the state government back to the drawing board to redraft its battleplan against the Maoists. It has no option but to go ahead with Operation Green Hunt as soon as central forces are available, but before that it has to free the dense jungles of landmines, fathom the treacherous terrain and rework the location of the forces’ camps.
On Wednesday, the state top brass decided to wind up and relocate camps in Jangalmahal that were perceived to be vulnerable. These include camps in Gidhni, Dharampur and Jamtolgora (in remote jungles), Banspahari and Baishnabpur (on the bank of Tarapheni river and Ghagra forest) and 11 others in Belpahari.
Formation of a specialised force like Greyhounds requires time. And it will be some days before additional central forces arrive. So, for the time being, the government has to prioritise its strategies that can be immediately implemented to tide over the crisis.
Home secretary Ardhendu Sen said a list of vulnerable camps had already been prepared. Some would be wound up, others relocated. The Maoists had taken advantage of the Silda camp’s location in a busy marketplace to launch the deadly attack that left 24 EFR jawans dead.
Two Union home ministry officials — Sunil Singh and D S Dadwal — visited the Silda camp and Belpahari on Wednesday. They met police superintendent Manoj Varma in Midnapore town and are expected to submit a report to the Centre by Thursday.
A senior police officer said all camps in Jangalmahal had been alerted following the attack and several measures taken to improve security. Till larger contingent of forces move in, these camps will be fortified further.