June 29: Three dozen commandos of a crack anti-Maoist force were feared drowned in an Orissa reservoir today after rebels waiting with rocket launchers sank a boat in their deadliest attack on police this year and the first on water.
Orissa police chief Gopal Chandra Nanda said the boat, returning with over 60 Greyhound personnel of Andhra police and a few Orissa policemen after a combing drive, sank near Alampetta village in Malkangiri district, more than 600km from state capital Bhubaneswar.
Police sources in Orissa said that of the 64 people on board, only 25 “swam to safety”, six of them with bullet injuries, though Andhra police chief S.S.P. Yadav put the number at 28, with 36 missing.
Four seriously wounded jawans have been flown to Visakhapatnam for treatment, said Malkangiri police superintendent S.K. Gajbhiye.
In Andhra, Vikram Singh Mann, the police chief of border district Vizianagaram, said two navy helicopters had been pressed into service to search for the missing commandos. Sources said search teams had found some police caps floating in the Balimela reservoir but not any bodies so far.
Andhra home minister K. Jana Reddy flew to the spot of the attack, the first by Maoists on a police team travelling by boat.
Earlier this year in February, a Maoist attack on the police in Nayagarh, Orissa, had killed 14 personnel.
An Orissa police officer said today’s attack could be a counter-offensive against the joint operations Andhra and Orissa police have launched in Malkangiri because of the protest week the rebels are observing against a pilot project to develop eight Maoist-affected districts.
On June 20, Malkangiri police had organised a community policing camp, while a police station was opened in another Naxalite stronghold.
Andhra police sources said the rebels used two rocket launchers to sink the boat and later fired at the commandos trying to swim ashore.
The sources said about 40 rebels lay in wait on the banks of the reservoir for the commandos, who had taken a different route while returning to Chitrakonda, in Malkangiri, after a three-day operation. The Maoists pounded the boat as soon as it came into view and shot the driver dead.
A sub-inspector from Chitrakonda, who had accompanied the combing party, also died, police sources said.
An intelligence official in Andhra said the Maoists had last month formed a militia commission with nearly a hundred trained cadres following major reverses in the past six months.
“The Maoists are planning a revival of their activities in Andhra Pradesh and hence the regrouping efforts,” the intelligence official added.
Police officers claimed they were ready for any “eventualities” during the anniversary celebrations of the banned CPI (Maoist) next month