GOALTORE (WEST MIDNAPORE): Security forces pulled off a major breakthrough in the dense forests of Lalgarh early on Monday by gunning down Maoist leader Sidhu Soren and five armed squad members, including a woman. A COBRA constable was killed while chasing the retreating rebels.
Soren is the biggest kill in Jangalmahal since the start of the Maoist insurgency in Bengal. The 27-year-old was the secretary of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) when it was set up in 2009. He went on to head the Sidhu Kanhu Mass Militia, the armed wing of the PCPA blamed for many murders and the Jnaneswari Express massacre. Not only had Soren masterminded a number of bloody attacks in the area, he was quite likely present in many of them. Police say he was also the section commander of the Sarenga-Goaltore platoon of CPI(Maoist).
The operation was carried out in the dead of night. Acting on specific information, 300 personnel of the CRPF, COBRA and state police marched from the Goaltore and Kadashole camps around 2.30am. It took them an hour to reach Canal Side Road (between Goaltore and Sarenga). From this point, the forces quietly slipped into the Metala forest that connects Simlipal forest in Bankura. It took another hour for the jawans to cover the 2km jungle trail with the aid of hand-held GPS devices. They reached their objective – a clearing of about 150 metres square – around 4.30am.
“By then, we were moving in an inverted V formation. The team was spearheaded by COBRA commandos and CRPF personnel covered both flanks. The state police were in the middle. The clearing had three tents that made up three points of a triangle. The first tent was orange in colour. The remaining two, partly hidden from view, were black and green,” a senior officer, who participated in the raid, said.
No sooner had the personnel stepped into the clearing that they were spotted by the orange-tent sentry. He immediately opened fire on the leading COBRA jawans. Within seconds, he was joined by the sentries of the other two tents. The five occupants of the orange tent -Sidhu among them -also emerged and engaged the security forces while about a dozen rebels took this opportunity to run out of the remaining two tents and disappear into the forest.
The six Maoists from the orange tent stood little chance with no cover and were cut down by concentrated automatic fire within minutes. One of them had his head blown off.
The remaining members of the squad had spread out along the periphery of the clearing and engaged the security personnel with intermittent bursts. A brave attempt to take over the camp resulted in the death of COBRA jawan Ashis Tiwary. He was a member of the 202 Battalion. It took nearly three more hours for the troops to gain full control of the clearing as the rebels kept sniping at them.
Of the dead Maoists, only Soren could be identified initially, said West Midnapore SP Manoj Verma. Late Monday night, the girl was identified as Mita Karmakar of Bhalukbasha (Soren’s native area) and one of the others as Srikanta Murmu. Officers suspect that 12-13 Maoists from the remaining two tents succeeded in getting away. Among the weapons seized from the camp were an SLR, an Insas rifle, two .303 rifles, two 9mm pistols, two branded single barrel guns and five countrymade guns. Some ammunition, seven cellphones, a large automotive battery and two IEDs were also seized.
About 30 minutes after taking over the camp, security forces decided on entering the forest in pursuit of those who had managed to get away. They immediately came under heavy fire from the left flank. Officers suspect that this was covering fire being provided by 3-4 squad members to allow the others to escape. The jawans returned fire, but could not inflict any damage. The last bullet was fired at 9.15am.
Officers suspect that the Maoists had camped in the area for 8-10 days. From some documents seized from the tents, it is suspected that they were planning to overrun the CPM party office at Sarenga where armed cadres of the party are reported to have taken refuge. TOI