16 killed as Maoists attack police patrol

March 12, 2014 - 1:23:19 am
RAIPUR: Maoist rebels killed 16 people in a massive attack on security forces in central India yesterday, less than a month before the country holds a general election.

Security officials and police sources said the victims were all killed when up to 200 rebels ambushed a patrol in forests in Chhattisgarh state, sparking a major gun battle that lasted for three hours.

Eleven members of the national paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed along with four members of the state police force, said Mukesh Gupta, one of Chhattisgarh’s most senior police officers. 

“A total of 11 CRPF, four policemen and one civilian have died,” Gupta said.

Although other officials initially suggested the death toll was higher, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde confirmed that 16 people had died.

There were no figures on the number of Maoist casualties.

The forces were involved in an operation to clear and open a road in Sukma district when the rebels detonated a landmine and started firing indiscriminately, according to Rajinder Kumar Vij, the head of anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh.

“The attack sparked a gun battle that lasted about three hours,” Vij said.

Several people were injured in the attack and were airlifted to Ramkrishna Care Hospital in the state capital Raipur for treatment.

Security reinforcements were rushed to the area, along with top state government officials.

Gupta said the attack took place in a heavily-forested area during the operation to clear the road some 400 kilometres south of Raipur.

“The attack was on one of our police parties as the Naxalites (Maoists) have been frustrated at our increased presence in the area,” he said.

The attack was close to the site of an ambush in May last year on a convoy carrying members of India’s ruling Congress party in which 24 people were killed, including the state party president and his son.

The latest deaths will heighten fears of unrest in the Maoists’ stronghold in the build-up to the nationwide elections which begin in early April.

Voting will take place in Chhattisgarh in three phases, on April 10, 17 and 24.

Raman Singh, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, dismissed suggestions that army reinforcements were needed.

“There is no question of that,” he told reporters in Raipur. 

Ravi Shankar Prasad, a senior member of India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said authorities should not allow the attack to disrupt election preparations.

“The deaths are extremely unfortunate. We condemn it strongly,” he told a press conference in New Delhi.

“Whenever elections are held they resort to such tactics. They tried to derail last year’s state elections as well but they did not succeed in their designs,” he added.