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73 CRPF men killed by Maoists in Chhattisgarh-Bastar bombings and firing

Raipur, April 6 (IANS) Seventy-three security personnel were killed Tuesday when over 700 Maoist guerrillas in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region ambushed a 120-member contingent of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) by first bombing and then opening fire.

In what is one of the biggest Maoist attacks in the country, the guerrillas triggered multiple blasts and then fired indiscriminately at the CRPF team in the Chintalnar forested hamlet of Dantewada district, about 450 km south from here, in violence-hit Bastar.

More than two dozen personnel were injured.

According to Dantewarda Superintendent of Police Amaresh Mishra, the dead included 72 troopers from the 62nd battalion of the CRPF and one state police officer.

"A massive contingent of heavily armed Maoists ambushed a CRPF team in a hilly stretch. They first triggered blasts from all directions and followed by indiscriminate firing," Vishwa Ranjan, director general of police, told IANS.

He said it seemed to be a meticulously planned attack. A chopper has been sent from Jagdalpur, headquarters of Bastar district, to move the injured troopers to hospital. A strong contingent of state police force has also been rushed to the site.

In New Delhi, a shocked Home Minister P. Chidambaram said the CPRF personnel massacred in Chhattisgarh seemed to have walked into a Maoist trap.

"Something has gone very wrong," a sombre Chidambaram told reporters outside his office here. "They seem to have walked into a trap set by the Naxalites (Maoists). Casualties are very high. I am deeply shocked."

"But this shows the savage nature of the CPI-Maoist, the brutality and savagery they are capable of. Senior officers have gone to the area. I await a report from them," he said, referring to the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist

A counter terrorism expert posted in Dantewada disclosed on the condition of anonymity that the CRPF men had flouted guerilla warfare guidelines and rushed to an interior location to track down insurgents in a vehicle.

This, he said, was totally "disallowed" for search and combing operations in the vast interiors of the Maoist stronghold of Bastar which is riddled with landmines.

"There is a clear-cut instruction for paramilitary men as well as state police force to not use vehicles for any kind of offensive in forested interiors. They are to go only on foot and also not in groups but in two-three members squad. On Tuesday, the CRPF men grossly neglected warfare manuals and finally paid the price," he said.

The attack has been seen as a retaliation to Chhattisgarh government's famed anti-Maoist drive Operation Green Hunt, launched in July 2009 that has killed 90 Maoists till date.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, who convened an emergency meeting of senior officials, labelled it an act of "cowardice". Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar said it was the result of "intelligence failure".

Chhattisgarh's mineral rich Bastar region spread out in about 40,000 sq km is made up of five districts - Bijapur, Kanker, Narayanpur, Bastar and Dantewada. It has witnessed a string of deadly attacks since year 2005 that have claimed over 1,600 lives.

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