Indian Forces Gun Down 24 Maoist Rebels in Odisha

Jhumur Deb
Guwahati, India
161024-IN-maoist-620.jpg Indian Maoist rebels undergo training in a forested area of Bijapur, a district in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, July 8, 2012.

Indian security forces killed at least 24 suspected Maoist rebels during a gun battle in the eastern state of Odisha on Monday, police said.

The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist – as the insurgents are formally known – suffered their worst death toll in the shootout since Indian forces killed 13 in September 2013. Three months ago, Maoist rebels killed 10 members of the Central Reserve Police Force in an ambush in eastern Bihar state.

Two policemen were injured in the latest shootout that occurred early Monday in Malkangiri district, a densely forested area close to the border with Andhra Pradesh state, about 700 km (435 miles) from state capital Bhubaneswar.

Greyhounds, a special joint force from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh that undertakes high-risk operations against Maoist rebels, launched the attack following a tip about a meeting being held at a makeshift training camp in the Jantri area of the district, Superintendent of Police Mitrabhanu Mohapatra said.

“We have recovered 24 bodies – 17 males and seven females – from the ambush site. Some more injured Maoists escaped into the dense jungle and a search operation is on to flush them out,” Mohapatra told reporters, adding that the death toll might go up because security forces were combing the area, according to Indian media.

“Although we have yet to confirm the identities of the deceased, we suspect a few top leaders of the group might be among the dead,” he said.

‘They cannot be trusted blindly’

Maoists, also known as Naxalites, have been fighting Indian security forces since the late 1960s from their jungle hideouts in more than a third of central and eastern India’s 600-odd districts.

The rebels have accused successive governments of uprooting poor and landless people to exploit mineral-rich forests scattered throughout the region.

Although the level of violence has seen a sharp decline in recent years, with the government offering cash incentives to Maoists who surrender, the group stages occasional attacks on security forces and police informers.

As many as 98 suspected rebels and 27 security personnel have died during armed clashes this year to date, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

An estimate by the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think-tank, shows that the Communist Party of India-Maoist has about 10,000 armed cadres with access to sophisticated weapons such as AK-47 assault rifles.

Monday’s police offensive was the second major encounter in Malkangiri district, considered a hotbed of guerrillas due to its close proximity to the Naxalite-infested states of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

In September 2013, police had gunned down 13 Maoists in a similar encounter in the district.

Yet although the police claim they dealt the Maoists a major blow in Monday’s gun battle, an analyst questioned the police version.

“It is hard to trust the Indian government’s version on casualty figures. Whenever they (the police) kill tribals, they term the victims as Maoists. They cannot be trusted blindly,” Uday Chaudhari, who has been part of many fact-finding committees on Maoist killings, told BenarNews.


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