Saturday, December 15, 2007

Police taking AK 47-armed Maoists 'head-on' with batons

By Sujeet Kumar

Raipur, Dec 15 (IANS): Police in India's worst Maoist-hit state of Chhattisgarh have now been left with only wooden batons to defend themselves from attacks by heavily armed guerrillas.

On Wednesday, when a group of Maoists armed with AK 47s and landmines attacked the Vishrampuri police station in Bastar district, the five policemen there had only their batons as weapons of defence except for an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) who had a service revolver.

The rebels killed three policemen and blew up the police station.

The reason the police station, as most other police stations in Maoist-hit areas, had only batons is because all the weapons have been taken away for security reasons as the rebels are looting arms and ammunition from the police.

Now, it is only batons that the majority of low-ranked police officials and cops deployed in restive southern Bastar region are left with.

No wonder then that they are asking, "Will we have to take the rebels head-on only with batons as was the case in Wednesday's attack?"

This query can only be answered by the state government or by Director General of Police (DGP) Chhattisgarh, Vishwaranjan. The DGP, a former additional director, Intelligence Bureau, had called upon the police Tuesday to "take Maoist militants head-on in their hideouts". The rebels responded the very next day - with landmines, AK-47s and self-loading rifles (SLRs).

"The DGP wants the police to take on insurgents head-on, but only with batons. In dozens of police stations in Maoist strongholds of Bastar, arms and weapons have been taken back from police stations fearing the rebels may loot them. So the constables and head constables literally are left with only batons to counter the militants while the ASIs have their service revolvers," an ASI posted in the rebel-hit Dantewada told IANS by phone.

"Policemen deployed in Maoist-prone areas feel they are sent to Bastar region as a punishment posting and they are not useful and capable. This is really very discouraging and if the government wants to take the rebels head-on, it must take steps to lift the morale of the police and make them feel that a Bastar posting is actually a reward posting," said a Mizo jawan of the India Reserve Battalion, deployed in Konta area in Dantewada district.

He said that the "Chhattisgarh police force lacks commitment, motivation and backing up at the higher level".

Vishwaranjan was not available for his comments when the correspondent telephoned him on the reported taking away of arms and weapons from several police stations.

However, a senior official involved in anti-Maoist operations had this to say: "Human lives are more important than arms. But it's a fact that in certain vulnerable areas we have either not issued arms and ammunition to police stations or taken back ammunition as Maoists have a track record of looting police force weapons and ammunition for killing policemen."

Dantewada and its neighbouring Bijapur districts are the worst insurgency hit districts of India where over 50,000 people have deserted their forest homes and are living in government-run 23 makeshift relief camps ever since the June 2005 civil militia movement, Salwa Judum, was launched to counter the Leftist radicals.

About 900 people have been killed in the state since the government-backed Salwa Judum was launched. The killings included the brutal murder of 55 police in a single attack this year in March in Bijapur district.

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