Lalgarh people flee, security forces arrest three Maoists


Lalgarh (West Bengal) : Hundreds of villagers in this West Bengal area fled as security forces Sunday started combing operations and arrested three suspected Maoists. A group of visiting intellectuals demanded an immediate ceasefire to facilitate talks and complained that women and children were being tortured.

Support TwoCircles

On the fourth day of the security operation launched by the state government to flush out Maoists from this troubled zone of West Midnapore district, the forces nabbed the three rebels at Chakadoba village under Belpahari police station after sporadic clashes since Saturday.

“We have found a lot of Maoist literature and other materials from them,” Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) Raj Kanojia told IANS in Kolkata.

A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel suffered injuries on his hand when he was hit with a sharp weapon during a clash at Chakadoba Sunday before the arrests.

Another trooper was rushed to a hospital in Midnapore after he fell sick due to the oppressive heat and humidity, Kanojia said. One trooper had died of sunstroke Saturday.

Divided into small teams, the security forces have started searching nearby villages for weapons, Maoist rebels, as also leaders of the tribal body People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), which has been the face of the seven-month old agitation that made the area a virtual free zone.

A day after reclaiming this headquarters of the Binpur Community Development block from the Maoists, a second team of central and state security personnel reached this area – 200 km from Kolkata – from Sarenga in Bankura.

A group of intellectuals including filmmakers, theatre personalities and writers opposed to the Left Front government – met PCAPA leader Chhattradhar Mahato and people in some villages during a day’s tour of the affected zone.

“From conversations with the people, we could gather they are afraid. In the interest of the people, we will make a very sincere appeal to both Maoists and the administration to lay down arms,” said filmmaker Aparna Sen.

Pointing out that the administration and the PCAPA are already scheduled to hold the next round of discussions July 14, Sen said: “It is very important to have a ceasefire there until then.” She added people were getting caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and police.

Theatre personality Shaonli Mitra said some villages seemed empty, and in some others there were complaints that children and women were being beaten up.

“We have been told that women are being molested, and water has been contaminated in some villages. People are living without food and water.”

Following instructions from Trinamool Congress chief and railway minister Mamata Banerjee, two central ministers from the party, Mukul Roy and Sisir Adhikari, set off for the affected zone with relief but were stopped by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) activists at Salboni.

“There was an obstruction. But we removed it,” said Kanojia.

Minister of State for Rural Development Adhikari and Minister of State for Shipping Roy alleged that around 20,000 villagers from various areas in Lalgarh were fleeing their homes due to the atrocities by security forces.

The state government appealed to central and state ministers, NGOs, intellectuals and journalists to stay away from the troubled zone of Lalgarh saying it was not in a position to provide security to them in view of Maoist activities in the area.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the core group formed to monitor the progress of the security operations, Chief Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty appealed to the Maoists to lay down arms and help in restoring normalcy.

“We have decided that the health centres and ration shops will have to be reopened as early as possible,” Chakraborty said after the meeting in which Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was also present.

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

Complaining of police atrocities after the blast, angry tribals launched an agitation virtually cutting off the area from the rest of the district.

In recent days, the agitators have torched CPI-M offices, driven away the ruling party’s supporters and forced the police to leave, thereby establishing a virtual free zone.

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