New Delhi/Raipur: A controversy has erupted over the killing of 19 persons in anti-Maoist operations by security forces in Chhattisgarh last week amid questions whether the victims were all Naxals with Chief Minister Raman Singh on Monday saying the rebels were using humans as "shields".

Singh and the CRPF defended the encounter while social activist Swami Agnivesh condemned the incident, claiming innocent tribals lost their lives in a "cold-blooded murder." The incident was the most brutal since independence, Agnivesh said. CPI(M) demanded a time-bound judicial inquiry into last week's killing by CRPF and state police of 19 people, including a woman and two children, alleging they were either brutally axed to death or killed in "indiscriminate firing".

People's Union for Civil Liberties president Prabhakar Sinha told IANS over the phone from Patna that only "an independent probe" into the operation would reveal the truth. He also wanted the Supreme Court to take up the matter suo motu and order a special investigation team to carry out the independent probe.

"We should not trust the government's story on the encounter (gunfight), as several innocent villagers have been killed. This country's security forces have an history of killing several thousand innocents in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir," he added.

Using human shield

With his government coming under attack from the opposition Congress over the incident, Singh said if any innocent person was killed or injured, then the Naxals must be held responsible for it as they often use innocent villagers as back-up for themselves during such gunfight and use them as "human shields".

Singh said the Congress should not politicise the matter. The Congress alleged that the incident was a "completely fake encounter" and that the victims "innocent Adivasis."

Defending encounter

Rejecting allegations that innocent villagers were killed, Union Home Secretary RK Singh said six CRPF personnel were also injured in the encounter. He also pointed out that one woman was killed in the encounter and that Naxal outfits had women cadres.

Home Minister P Chidambaram, while interacting with the media in the national capital last week, had identified three important naxals leaders-- Somulu, Nagesh and Mahesh—who were killed in the gunbattle.

The CRPF claimed its men had retaliated to firing from the rebels. "We never resorted to the firing. It was provoked from the other side. We had to protect ourselves after so many were injured in open fire...Twice our people retreated on seeing women and children in the front," CRPF DG Vijay Kumar said.

Tribals shouldn't be victims: Cong

The Congress treaded cautiously on the issue maintaing tribals should not become "victims in the cross fire" between Naxals and security forces. Downplaying P Chidambaram's reported statement that three Naxals were killed in the encounter, AICC in-charge for Chhattisgarh B K Hariprasad said the Home Minister was merely quoting from the report of the state government.

Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said, "We do not have complete information in this regard. We have asked the AICC general secretary in-charge of the state to submit a report in this regard. The Home Minister has already spoken on it but let us have a complete picture. We will say something then.”

Fact-finding team sent

Congress has sent a 12 member fact-finding team from the state led by senior MLA Kawasi Lakhma.  "Tribals should not become victims of the cross fire between security forces and Naxals. 900 tribal villages in the Bastar region now wear a deserted look while of 80 thousand people, who were living in Salwa Judum (anti-Maoist vigilante groups) camps, only 25 to 30 thousand are remaining. We do not know where the rest have gone. The state government has a responsibility for people's security, " Hariprasad said.

Asked about the difference in the stand taken by the state Congress that it was a "completely fake encounter" and Chidambaram's remarks last week that three important Naxal leaders-- Somulu, Nagesh and Mahesh---were killed in the gunbattle, Hariprasad said," the Home Minister was actually stating from the report of the state government."

"What Chidambaram said was on the basis of the report he received from the state government. What our party in the state is saying is on the basis of the feedback from local leaders. It's a sensitive matter and that is why we have sent a fact-finding team. The report will be submitted to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and we will also meet the Home Minister as soon it is with us," Hariprasad said.

Tremors of red terror

  • At least 25 people were killed and 80 others injured at the Errabore relief camp when over 800 armed Naxalites attacked the village in Dantewada district of Chattisgarh on July 17, 2006.
  • Not even sparing the politicians, maoists had shot dead Lok Sabha member and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Sunil Kumar Mahato, his bodyguards and a party colleague during a football match at Bakuria village near Jamshedpur in Jharkhand.
  • The worst sufferer of maoist violence, Chhattisgarh witnessed a massive violence in 2007 when 24 state policemen and 31 Special Police Officers were killed while asleep in a police outpost in Rani Bodi village.
  • In 2007, Former Jharkand CM Babulal Marandi's son Anup and 17 others were killed in a bomb attack at the Chilkhadia village in Giridh district of Jharkhand.  
  • The deadliest of all attacks took place on February 15, 2008 when 14 policemen and one civilian were killed in a fierce naxal attack on the district headquarters of Nayagarh.

JPN/Agencies

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