Saturday, June 20, 2009

Police, paramilitary forces sanitize key Maoist corridor

20 Jun 2009, 0243 hrs IST, Jayanta Gupta & Falguni Banerjee, TNN



SARENGA (BANKURA): Police and paramilitary forces on Friday sanitized a key Maoist corridor along the strategic tri-junction linking West Midnapore,
Purulia and Bankura near the Bengal-Jharkhand border but it came a day late. Intelligence inputs say Maoist strategist Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji and some top rung leaders may have used this route to cross over to Jharkhand on Thursday.

The march to recapture the liberated' zone began from Sarenga a forested area between Goaltore and Ranibandh, 12-13 km from Ramgarh at 2 in the afternoon with Bankura additional SP Shish Ram Jhajharia and subdivisional police officer Anoop Jaiswal leading a force of 200 CRPF, Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) and state police personnel towards the West Midnapore border.

The road that leads to Lalgarh is diagonally opposite the one from Pirakata, along which another contingent is moving towards Lalgarh. Domination over, this tribal territory is viewed as vital to the mission.

"We intend to clear the entire stretch in Bankura up to the West Midnapore border and have complete area domination so that the forces can move directly to Ramgarh and then into Lalgarh if required," a police officer said. The contingent marched 6 km through villages that police had not been able to access ever since the Maoist-backed people's resistance against cops began nearly eight months ago.

Cooped in police camps for months and demoralized by the people's boycott, the go-ahead to launch Operation Lalgarh has visibly enthused police personnel. The force was well prepared to face resistance, carrying automatic rifles and mortars.

A PWD team was also in place to clear tree trunks from roads. The logs were loaded on a truck so that they could not be reused to block the roads again. The message from the advancing team was clear: we mean business.

The advancing forces encountered road blocks at several points, including Parulia and Tadiha-Gargaria. But nowhere did they face the sea of human resistance that the other party from Pirakata faced on Thursday. As the force approached the district border, the frequency of blockades increased. The force searched passing vehicles and often surrounded suspected Maoist hideouts.

In a show of strength, police personnel also stopped at several villages and dared those who had opposed their entry into the zone for months to step ahead for a confrontation. Again, the challenges were met with silence.

At Bamundiha, police called locals to a ground where People's Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) leader Chhatradhar Mahato was to hold a rally later in the day. In front of the villagers, police demolished the stage.

The message delivered, police continued on till they reached Kargil More. Here, they encountered a different kind of hurdle. A culvert had been partly demolished to prevent vehicles from crossing over. Ramgarh the heart of the Maoist resistance zone is just 5 km from Kargil More. With dusk approaching fast, Jhajharia decided to call it a day and return to the camp at Sarenga. The foot march had taken close to three hours. The return trek would be slightly less.

The decision to move on foot was deliberate. It was a safeguard against improvised explosive devices that Maoists could have planted along the road. The move was also directed to have an impact on the locals. "Police and paramilitary personnel marching through villages carries more weight than forces driving past in vehicles," a police officer explained.

The march to Kargil More and back, while being termed a success, also exposed the lack of fitness among state police personnel who had been confined in camps for months. Several times during the journey, policemen had a tough time keeping pace with CRPF and EFR jawans. Panting and out of breath, the pot-bellied cops had to request the advance troops to slow down so that they could join them.

"Don't worry, if this march continues for a week, they will all be back in shape," a CRPF officer remarked.

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