coordinated attacks by Naxalites in Nayagarh, killing 13 police personnel and a civilian, on February 15 clearly caught the Orissa administration and security forces unawares. That the strikes took place just 100 km from state capital, Bhubaneswar, and the rebels decamped with a large cache of ammunition, was further embarrassment for the Navin Patnaik government.
The policemen put up a brave fight in the gunbattle that began around 10:45 pm and lasted nearly an hour-and-a-half, but they were clearly outnumbered by the 400-odd rebels who, it is now suspected, had travelled to Nayagarh from neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Though there were reports of three Naxalites also being killed in the encounters, no bodies have been recovered.
Eighteen of Orissa's 30 districts are supposed to be 'Naxal infested', and this is the third attack on a state police armoury in recent years. Yet officials say that the Friday 13 siege took intelligence and security personnel by surprise because Nayagarh doesn't have naxal presence. Director-general of police Gopal Chandra Nanda owned up to the intelligence failure, saying "we didn't have prior information of a possible Naxalite attack", and, surprisingly, vowed to take revenge.
The police suspect the attacks were planned by Sabyasachi Panda, CPI (Maoist)'s Andhra-Orissa secretary. Some reports said Panda hailed from an Orissa family that backed the ruling bjd.
A red alert was immediately sounded in the state and Orissa's border with Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand were sealed. The centre sent two air force helicopters and 600 paramilitary forces and launched a massive combing operation on February 17, focusing on the thickly forested districts of Ganjam, Kandhamal and Nayagarh.
On February 18, the state home secretary T K Mishra said security forces killed at least 20 rebels, including some women cadres, in gunbattles. Three senior Special Operations Group officials lost their lives. However, in this case too, the state is yet to produce bodies of the "slain" rebels.
By day four of the combing operation, February 21, there was little progress. The centre rushed in four more crpf companies. The forces' offensive strategy had to be shifted from chasing the maoist rebels in the forests to waiting for them to emerge from the hideouts in Singhasini hills in Ganjam district.
Yet the same day chief minister Naveen Patnaik blandly announced in the state assembly that "the naxal violence profile" in Orissa was "much less" compared to the neighbouring states.
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