Monday, April 13, 2009

Seven CISF jawans, 4 Maoists killed in Orissa naxal attack

Bhubaneswar (PTI): Seven CISF jawans and four Maoist guerillas were killed in a gunfight following a daring attack by the ultras on a well-guarded armoury and bauxite mine of NALCO in Orissa's Koraput district, police said on Monday.

Over 100 workers present in the mine during the attack were safe.

Before fleeing from the spot, the heavily-armed Maoists numbering about 200, including some women, looted the CISF armoury in the mining area which contained huge quantities of sophisticated arms and ammunition as well as explosives.

"Seven jawans of CISF posted at the hilltop bauxite mines in Damanjodi area were killed in the gunbattle that continued till early morning after the Maoists attacked it on Sunday night," Director General of Police M M Praharaj said.

Four Maoists were also killed in the encounter and two rifles were seized from the site, he said, adding more casualties were not ruled out as the entire area was still being searched after the ultras fled with weapons under the cover of darkness.

NALCO Chairman and Managing Directror C R Pradhan said all the employees were safe and have been set free.

"They were set free at around six in the mornign after the special operation group reached the spot," he said.

The well planned attack, apparently aimed at disrupting the upcoming polls and loot explosives, took place shortly after 9.30 pm on Sunday night in Asia's biggest bauxite mines.

Additional forces comprising jawans of CRPF, elite Special Operation Group (SOG) and district police have rushed to the site, police said.

Attacking with precision, Maoists in different groups struck various positions in the area including a CISF outpost, armoury and canteen, police sources said.

The ultras also blew up a mobile phone tower in the site affecting telecommunication besides erecting obstacles on the circuitous hilly roads towards the hilltop.

Force movement was also slow due to darkness, while the jawans had to move cautiously as there were fears of Maoists having laid land mines in the area, they said adding the hilltop was located at considerable height at a distance of about 15 km from the foothills.

An alert was sounded in the entire region even as the incident triggered panic among people in nearby township.

The attack came close on the heels of Maoist strikes in Malkangiri and Rayagada districts. The ultras have killed Samruddha Odisha Party candidate for Malkangiri assembly seat.

The ultras have also given poll boycott call in several Maoist-affect districts of Orissa.

In a similar attack in 2004, Maoists had looted police armoury in Koraput district, while armoury and other police establishments had been attacked and looted by the ultras in Nayagarh district in February, 2008, sources said.

A senior NALCO official said the Naxalites had locked up the employees in the canteen and the crushing plant of the mines and were keeping a strict vigil on them.

"The employees were warned not to talk or use their cellphones. The ultras even blasted one of the mobile towers, but we could remain in touch with some of the captive people over SMS from the network of other cellular operators," the official said.

On production loss due to the attack, he said it could be in the range of around 660 tonnes today as the morning shift, which normally starts at around 6 am would begin the mining operations a little late.

"There was no production loss yesterday, as the workers of the second shift were returning from work. Today, however, there could be around half day's loss, but we will make it up shortly," he said.

NALCO operates its Panchpatmali bauxite mines in two shifts. The mineral mined from here is used for making alumina at its refinery in Damanjodi, about 20 km from the site were the ultras had laid seize. Nalco digs out about 4.8 million tonnes of bauxite from the mines annually.

According to company sources, at the time the incident took place, about 40 tonnes of explosives was available at the site.

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