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Dantewada Maoist Naxal Attack: Maoist massacre 73 security personnel in Chhattisgarh

Raipur, April 6 (IANS) Maoist guerrillas Tuesday carried out the worst ever massacre of security personnel by trapping and slaughtering 73 men in the dense forests of Chhattisgarh, two days after Home Minister P. Chidambaram called them cowards.

A shocked Chidambaram expressed distress over the massacre in Dantewada in Bastar region as reinforcements were rushed to evacuate the wounded and save survivors of the 120-strong Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) team that had gone looking for Maoists.

In what appeared to be a meticulously planned operation, hundreds of Maoists -- one report put the number at about 700 -- bombed and fired at the CRPF personnel as they entered a hilly stretch of forest where the rebels have held sway for decades, running a de facto state.

The incident took place about 450 km south of Raipur. Dantewada is considered a stronghold of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says has emerged as the biggest internal security threat.

It was the worst massacre since Maoists stormed an isolated police post in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district in March 2007 and killed 55 policemen.

According to Dantewada Superintendent of Police Amaresh Mishra, the dead Tuesday included 72 men from the 62nd battalion of the CRPF and a state police officer. More than two dozen personnel were injured.

"A massive contingent of heavily armed Maoists ambushed a CRPF team in a hilly stretch. They first triggered blasts from all directions and followed (it) with indiscriminate firing," Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan told IANS.

He said one chopper had been sent from Jagdalpur, headquarters of Bastar district, to move the injured troopers to hospital. A strong contingent of state police force had rushed to the site.

Many security personnel are reportedly missing, and two Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters looked for them in the forests, police sources said. The attackers made away with weapons.

While Home Minister Chidambaram and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh spoke briefly on the subject, former Punjab police chief K.P.S. Gill hit out at what he said was a flawed policy of the state government in the war against Maoists.

"It has been a flawed operation, it still is," said Gill, a former security advisor to the Chhattisgarh government. "Their basic concept is flawed," he told Times Now television.

Other experts said the dead men Tuesday had violated the basic principles of anti-insurgency operations by travelling in large numbers in vehicles, providing an easy target for the Maoist People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA).

"There is a clear-cut instruction for paramilitary as well as police to not use vehicles for any offensive in forested interiors. They are to go only on foot and also not in groups," said one officer, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The CRPF men grossly neglected the manuals and finally paid the price."

In New Delhi, Chidambaram, the spearhead of a nationwide anti-Maoist campaign called Operation Green Hunt, said the CPRF seemed to have walked into a Maoist trap.

"Something has gone very wrong," Chidambaram told reporters. "They seem to have walked into a trap set by the Naxalites. I am deeply shocked. This shows the savage nature of the CPI-Maoist, the brutality and savagery they are capable of."

While Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar blamed the killings on intelligence failure, Chief Minister Raman Singh said: "We need to review our strategy every day. We need to have better coordination."

Chhattisgarh's mineral rich Bastar region has 40,000 sq km of land area but is among the poorest in India in economic development. It is dominantly home to impoverished tribals, many of whom work for the Maoists.

Bastar has witnessed a string of deadly attacks since 2005 that has claimed over 1,600 lives.

On Sunday, Chidambaram visited Lalgarh, a Maoist hub in West Bengal. There, he called the rebels cowards and then gave a virtual clean chit to the Chhattisgarh government, saying the situation there had improved vis-a-vis the Maoists.

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