Mix-up cloud on 17 deaths

Raipur, June 29: The security forces today claimed to have surprised and killed 17 Maoists in a Chhattisgarh jungle but local people alleged that most of the dead were ordinary villagers attending a rebel-called meeting.

One of four injured Maoists later died in hospital, raising the death toll to 18, police said.

Intelligence sources corroborated one part of the unofficial version: that the Maoists were meeting the villagers to try and settle a local land dispute when the state and central forces stormed the venue.

The official version claimed it was a Maoist-only meeting that was raided by a joint team of the CRPF’s elite Cobra commandos, state police’s special task force and district police personnel.

“We had received leads about the presence of a large number of rebels in the forests of Korsaguda near Basaguda police station in Bijapur district,” the state additional director-general of police (anti-Maoist operations), Ramniwas, said.

He said the police worked out a plan to strike after midnight. “They cordoned the area off. When the rebels fired, an encounter followed,” Ramniwas said, adding that six Cobra jawans were injured.

However, the recovery of only one rifle, two country-made guns and a “tiffin bomb” from a site where 17 Maoists had allegedly been killed raised doubts about the police version. Senior officers refused comment on the seeming inconsistency.

Villagers gheraoed the Basaguda police station this afternoon saying most of the dead were innocent people.

The Opposition Congress has alleged a “fake encounter” and formed an 11-member team to probe the incident. State Congress president Nandkumar Patel said women and children had been killed but this could not be corroborated.

Intelligence sources said that two injured Maoists, Chinnakka and Aoka Lakhu, had revealed that the rebels had gathered in the jungles on a request from the villagers to help settle a land dispute between two village groups.

“While the meeting with the villagers was under way, the security forces struck in the early hours,” one of the injured Maoists told the police, according to a senior intelligence official.

The Bijapur district superintendent of police, Prashant Agrawal, said all the 17 bodies had been recovered at the site but could not name any senior Maoist leader among the dead. He said only five bodies had been identified so far.

Officers said two of the six injured Cobra jawans were critical and had been flown to Raipur on a private helicopter.

In Hyderabad, civil rights activist P. Varavara Rao alleged that 23 tribals had been killed in the Chhattisgarh operation. He accused the state government of being in cahoots with industry and alleged that tribals had been displaced from 1,100 acres of land.

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