Security forces advance into Maoist-held Lalgarh


Lalgarh (West Bengal) : Advancing security forces lobbed tear gas shells and made a baton charge to break a ‘human wall’ put up by Maoist cadres, armed with bows and arrows and pickaxes, in this troubled zone as West Bengal’s Communist government launched a massive operation Thursday to free the region of left extremists.

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Two rebels as well as a lensman accompanying the security forces were injured, eyewitnesses said. There was no police confirmation of the news.

A day after being prodded by the centre to reclaim this headquarters of Binpur 1 community development block in West Midnapore district, 200 km form state capital Kolkata, from the Maoists, the state police personnel, backed by the central forces, moved in from their base camp at nearby Pirakata for ‘Operation Lalgarh’.

However, soon after, the forces came up against a ‘human wall’ at Malida, as hundreds of tribals carrying traditional weapons like bows and arrows, shovels, pickaxes and canes blocked the way by felling big trees on the road as they shouted slogans like “Inqilab Zindabad” and “Maoism zindabad”.

Using megaphones, the police warned the protesters to move away and clear the roads, but getting no response from the other side, the security forces started removing the tree trunk when they suddenly saw two Maoists standing in the nearby field with assault rifles. Immediately, the well-armed central forces came to the frontlines and the Maoists beat a hasty retreat.

The police started baton charging and lobbing tear gas shells, and succeeded in dispersing the protestors at that spot. “We will see how far we can go today (Thursday). Our target is to reach Lalgarh police station,” a police officer told accompanying journalists. Two of the protesters were injured in the baton charge, while a lensman also sustained injuries.

The police raided some houses in the vicinity and detained a few people before resuming their ‘Operation Lalgarh’.

Five companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and two companies of the Cobra Force, specially trained to combat Maoists, reached the district headquarters Midnapore town Wednesday. A large quantity of tear gas shells and protective shields have been provided to the security personnel.

Earlier in the day, the personnel from the central and state security forces were briefed at the Pirakata base camp to conduct a joint operation to flush out Maoist guerrillas who have been active in organising a tribal movement alongside a group called the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA).

“We have moved forces in the morning,” Inspector General of Police Raj Kanojia told IANS.

On Wednesday, the state government had declared that it was ready to launch an operation to free Lalgarh from the control of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) even as the guerrillas shot dead three workers of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist(CPI-M).

In response, a top rebel leader said the central and state governments had started psychological warfare against the people in Lalgarh with its show of force.

“The prime minister (Manmohan Singh) and home minister (P. Chidambaram) have started a psychological warfare by amassing huge forces. If they start the operations, we will resist with the help of the people who are with us,” CPI-Maoist politburo member Kishanjee told a television channel over phone.

Kishanjee alias K. Koteshwar Rao hails from Andhra Pradesh but has been camping in Lalgarh. He said the rebel group has decided to call for a two-day shutdown beginning Monday in West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar.

He also demanded that the centre and state government should apologise to the tribal people of Lalgarh if they wanted a peaceful and amicable resolution to the stand-off.

Lalgarh has been on the boil since last November when a landmine exploded on the route of the convoy of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and then central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada.

Police arrested some school students and allegedly harassed tribal women following the landmine blast. In protest, angry tribals virtually cut off the area from the rest of the district.

During the last few days, the agitators have torched CPI-M offices, driven away the party’s supporters and forced police to wind up several camps, thereby establishing a virtual free zone.

Maoists have been active in the three western districts of the state – West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. They also backed the Trinamool-sponsored movement against the state government’s bid to establish a chemical hub at Nandigram in East Midnapore district.