Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rebels signal tactical retreat

PRONAB MONDAL

Goaltore, June 27: The Maoists tonight scrambled to save face after the soft surrender of “stronghold” Ramgarh but appeared to be preparing the ground for a “temporary” withdrawal from the entire battle zone.

A rebel leader claimed the retreat from Ramgarh was a “tactical” and “honourable” one and promised a stronger fight in the coming days.

He, however, conceded that the security forces could recapture the whole of Lalgarh, forcing the Maoists “to leave for Jharkhand for the time being”.

Before leaving, the rebels would explain their compulsions to the villagers — whom they had promised to “protect” from police — at secret meetings while pledging to return once the central forces left, he told The Telegraph.

Such a meeting was held tonight at Kantapahari, still under Maoist control, where the rebels met the villagers under the banner of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities. Committee leader Chhatradhar Mahato told families not to leave their village if the forces recaptured it, adding: “Our activities will pick up once the central forces have left.”

The Maoist leader who spoke to this newspaper claimed the government forces would face a tougher fight when they march northwards from Lalgarh town to Ramgarh (today’s advance was westwards from Kadashole). He acknowledged the rebels needed to put up “as stiff a resistance as possible” so the villagers would not feel “let down”.

“We have won their confidence; they have some expectations from us. If we don’t put up any resistance, we shall lose goodwill.” He said that when the police start advancing from Lalgarh, they would be attacked from the deserted mud huts in roadside villages and from trenches dug near ponds. “We shall put up stiff resistance in our strongholds at Barapelia, Dalilpur Chowk and Kantapahari.”

Today’s retreat from Ramgarh was tactical, he claimed, because “we were not equipped to beat back such a massive force carrying sophisticated weaponry”. It was also honourable because “at least we managed to detonate an explosive and engage the police in a firefight”.

He admitted a “tactical mistake”, though. “If we had detonated our IED only after the police had entered deep into the jungle, there would definitely have been casualties. Unfortunately, we detonated it when the police were just entering the jungle.”

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