BELPAHARI (WEST MIDNAPORE): Scores of Maoists ambushed security forces in Silda (just 30km from Midnapore town) on Monday, killing 21 Eastern Frontier Rifle (EFR) jawans and abducting many injured soldiers, in the most devastating and daring Naxal attack in Bengal so far. The camp, located in the middle of a busy market place, was completely gutted.
Clad in tracksuits and preparing dinner, around 50 EFR men were caught completely off guard when 60 to 70 Maoists began firing from automatic rifles. The jawans were boxed in by the five-foot walls and barbed wire fence of their camp as the guerrillas opened fire from all sides.
Maoist leader Kishanji claimed responsibility for the attack almost immediately after it took place. ``This is our Operation Peace Hunt against their Operation Green Hunt,'' Kishanji told TOI. ``This is our reply to Chidambaram and Buddhadeb. Steer clear of the jungles of Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand.''
According to sources, scores of members of the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), the most dreaded of Maoist forces in Jharkhand, had slipped into Bengal two days prior to the attack.
Incidentally, it hasn't even been a week since Union home minister P Chidambaram, in Kolkata, announced a four-state crackdown on Maoists during a meeting with chief ministers of Naxal-hit states.
The EFR camp is inside a public health centre near the crowded Silda bazaar. It's possible that EFR authorities did not apprehend a Maoist attack in an area bustling with civilians. But the crowd cover worked for the Maoists, who went unnoticed as they started gathering in the market in threes and fives in the afternoon.
Cut off by the boundary wall, the jawans had no inkling of what was happening outside. By 5pm, the guerrillas had completely surrounded the camp and taken the high ground. The jawans were sitting ducks. They were lounging around or rolling out dough for chapatis when the Maoists began firing from their Insas and AK-47 rifles.
The firing was so heavy that it set the jawans' tent ablaze. Some of them were burnt alive. Others tried to escape but were caught in the barbed wire. The Maoists dumped some of the injured personnel in the back of a pick-up van and sped away. They also looted 20 rifles from the camp.
The operation lasted barely 30 minutes, said Hiren Mahato, an eyewitness. Rakesh Lepcha, a cook at the camp, said: ``I saw four of our men being burnt alive. Another two were shot dead in front of my eyes.''
There was no help for the injured and the traumatized survivors till 7.30pm, although Jhargram is a short drive away. Reinforcements dared not move from any of the nearby camps. ``We had specific information that landlines and IEDs had been planted on the approach roads,'' said a police officer.
In fact, the Silda ambush was foretold by PCPA leader Asit Mahato. ``There will be an assault within 24 hours,'' he had threatened on Sunday. ``The police made a terrible mistake by raiding my house at Bhulageria and attacking my ailing mother,'' he said.