Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Maoist mine traps send shivers down Saranda spine

KUMUD JENAMANI

Jamshedpur, April 27: Travelling along dirt tracks in the deep, dark forests of Saranda, it is not the fear of wild animals that grips forest officials.

It is Maoist landmines and the spectre of a sudden explosion ripping through the forest that sends the chill down their spine. The mine traps are, in fact, for police and paramilitary vehicles, but that is little solace.

More so in the wake of reports of increased Maoist activities in the Saranda area of West Singhbhum.

On April 21, two days before the second phase of Lok Sabha polls, West Singhbhum district police unearthed a powerful landmine from Aurangjee village under Bandgaon police station area in Saranda.

On April 23, the headman of Karampada village was picked up by a squad of armed Naxalites from his home. His bullet-riddled body was later found in the nearby forest.

Saranda divisional forest officer S.R. Natesh admitted that his staff — beat officers and field workers — have been afraid of venturing into the forest, especially via dirt tracks. “On April 24, a day after the polls, some officials had gone on a routine patrol to the Kiriburu range. After travelling a while, a section of villagers there warned them not to tread on the mud road as they had heard reports of rebels having laid landmines at several places. The officers had to take a detour that took them deeper into the forest,” Natesh told The Telegraph.

The senior forest officer admitted that the news of abductions and murders further demoralised his men.

Spread over 850sqkm, the Saranda forest, known for its sal reserves, has been a haven for rebels and has often served as a battlefield for police-rebel encounters. Between December 2001 and May 2004, several incidents of landmine blasts have occurred here claiming many lives. During this period, Naxalite activity was reportedly at its peak.

Over 60 policemen and CRPF jawans were killed in separate Naxalite-sponsored attacks.

After a lull of three years, Saranda now is more silent and perhaps more dangerous. West Singhbhum superintendent of police Sudhir Kumar Jha admitted that the force, too, received reports of landmines planted to keep police and paramilitary forces at bay particularly during the poll season. “We have succeeded in locating only one landmine from Saranda and understand that there may be others. We are trying to locate the rest,” he said.

Natesh believes that it would take quite some time before the fear is dispelled from the minds of his staff, who have to frequently move deep into the interiors. But, the department head added, the help of local villagers would go a long way to boost confidence.

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