Monday, November 29, 1999

Bengal on high alert ahead of Maoist protest

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Lalgarh (West Bengal), June 17 (IANS) Ahead of shutdowns and protests called by Maoists, police stations in all West Bengal districts have been alerted to foil any rebel strikes in view of the completion of one year of joint forces' operation Friday against the guerrillas in and around this West Midnapore district belt.'We are alert to the possibility (of Maoist offensive),' Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh told IANS Thursday, the anniversary eve of the joint forces' operation.While police stations in all the districts have been alerted, special precautionary measures are in place in the three western districts - West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura - which are considered the hotbed of rebel activity in the state.'We have basically alerted all police stations. But maximum security has been taken in the areas of these three districts where Maoists are active,' Singh said.The joint security forces comprising central paramilitary troopers and crack units of the state armed police had launched the massive operation in and around this belt June 18 last year to flush out the Maoist guerrillas, who had virtually taken over the administration for seven months after torching police camps and driving out the civil administration.The first anniversary of the operation comes two days after the security forces' biggest success in the zone when they killed at least eight Maoist rebels in a fierce gunbattle at Ranjha forest, about 20 km from here.The Maoists have called a 'Kala Divas' (Black Day) June 20-21 in the state in memory of the 'martyrs' killed in the joint forces' operation.The pro-Maoist tribal body People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) has given the call for a shutdown in West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts in protest against the deaths of the leftwing guerrillas in the Ranjha forest encounter and the 'killing of innocent villagers' by the security personnel during the one-year period.A police official, who led the security forces in the Ranjha forest firefight, said: 'We are apprehending some attacks.'West Midnapore Deputy Superintendent of Police (Operations) Anik Sarkar told IANS: 'We have got intelligence inputs on the Maoist plans. But we won't divulge them to the media because then they will change their strategy. Rest assured, we have taken all precautions.'Lalgarh had been on the boil since November 2008 when a landmine exploded on the route of the convoy of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and two other central ministers - Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada.Alleging police atrocities after the blast, the PCAPA, backed by Maoists, launched an agitation cutting off the area from the rest of West Midnapore district. The siege continued till the joint forces moved in and reclaimed the areas, though the rebels still continue to dominate parts of the terrain.

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