Saturday, June 20, 2009

Op Flush Out reaches its decisive stage

20 Jun 2009, 1158 hrs IST, AGENCIES

Operation Flush Out has entered the third day, as West Bengal Police assisted by paramilitary forces are attempting to drive out Maoists from West Midnapore's Lalgarh area. Security forces on Saturday (June 20) entered Lalgarh to reclaim it from Maoist-backed tribals and were closing in on the police station there. The personnel of paramilitary forces and the state police were just two km away from the Lalgarh police station, which is under Maoist control, a senior police officer said.

The securitymen from CRPF, BSF, State Armed Police, Eastern Frontier Rifles and the Kolkata Police entered the besieged area after crossing a five-km stretch of the Jhitka forest, a Maoist stronghold, he said.

They were moving in armoured vehicles fitted with anti-landmine devices and mortars and were carrying mine-detecting units.

The security forces were moving cautiously for the last two days to avoid civilian casualties. They checked the route with mine detectors yesterday as tribals blew up a bridge and set off a landmine in a bid to stall their advance.

AK-47 and Insas rifle-toting securitymen came under intermittent fire from Maoists at the Pingboni-Sarenga road today, Superintendent of Police Burdwan Humayan Kabir said.

Two landmines planted on the road, which was also blocked with felled trees, were defused, Kabir, who was leading one of three teams headed for Lalgarh from Binpur, said.

Another two teams were led by IGP (HQ) Harmanpreet Singh and Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Ranvir Kumar. A bridge over a shallow river which had been blown up earlier by Maoists created a temporary obstacle, but it could be crossed on foot.

When the security forces were driving from Pingboni, they were obstructed by a number of women.

Firefights with the Maoists occurred at two places between Pirakata and Bhimpur and near Pingboni last night with the villagers fleeing to safety, the police said.

The elite Anti-Naxal CoBRA forces have joined the operations. Last night, the Maoists fired on the Lalgarh police station, with the police retaliating.

At one place a group of journalists had a narrow escape and now the state government has issued an advisory to the media persons covering the war zone.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen said, "A very disturbing development is that journalists and reporters have been attacked. So we are appealing to all journalists to be extremely cautious and not try to follow police parties into more dangerous areas where the police is now going to go."

Ousting the Naxals from the bastion is not going to be easy for the forces as the Naxals have blocked roads leading to Lalgarh. Landmines have been planted close to bridges. Locally trained armed Maoists are overseeing the blockades. Most of these groups are led by fighters from the Maoist Core Group, while the big leaders masterminding the seige are holding fort near the jungles bordering Jharkhand.

Lalgarh has been out of bounds for the police since the landmine attack near Salboni on the convoy of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and then union ministers Ramvilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada in November last year.

The tribals under the banner of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities, led by Chhatradhar Mahato, had begun boycotting the police since the last few months. They allege that the police indulged in "atrocities" during raids on their homes following the landmine blast.

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