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Naxals Target Civilian Bus; 44 Killed

Just over a month after the Maoists gunned down 76 CRPF personnel in Chintalnar, the red extremists struck again, blowing up a bus carrying around 50 people, including 18 special police officers (SPO), around 4:15pm
PTI May 18, 2010 9:09 IST
Just over a month after the Maoists gunned down 76 CRPF personnel in Chintalnar, the red extremists struck again, blowing up a bus carrying around 50 people, including 18 special police officers (SPO), around 4:15pm on Monday near Sukma in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. Only six people -- all seriously injured -- are learnt to be alive, with the rest, including women and children, killed. Among those admitted to hospital are four civilians and two SPOs, said a senior police officer.

The Maoists triggered an improvised explosive device (IED) on a black-top road at Chingavaram between Dantewada and Sukma as the bus winded through a 40-km stretch of dense forest. The massive explosion, which left a 10-feet deep crater, took place within two days of Maoist spokesman Azad issuing a statement -- first reported in TOI -- congratulating the Maoist `army' for "wiping out 80 CRPF mercenaries" and promising more such attacks.

Dantewada SP Amaresh Mishra and a few other police officers had a providential escape as they crossed the stretch about 10 minutes before the incident. Rescue operations were on till late in the evening with teams from Kirandul reaching the spot with gas-cutters and searchlights. "Bodies are lying trapped, these have to be extricated," said a source in Dantewada.

Chhattisgarh home minister Ram Vichar Netam said, "Our jawans were in the bus. It seems the bus was targeted because of the jawans, although the number of civilians inside it was higher." It's learnt there were around 32 civilians and 18 SPOs in the bus. The SPOs are tribals -- belonging to Salwa Judum -- who assist the police in fighting the Maoists.

TOI learns that CRPF personnel from the Gadhiras base camp, about four km from the blast spot, rushed to Sukma on hearing about the attack. One source said there was a brief exchange of fire between the jawans and the Maoists who were trying to take away the weapons and ammunitions of the slain SPOs.

Apparently, the SPOs were travelling along with civilians in the hope that the bus would not be targeted by the rebels. "We have been doing this often," said a senior Chhattisgarh cop. "But who would've known that they would target civilians as well?"

Analysts say it was yet another violation of standard operating procedure (SOP) on the part of Chhattisgarh police, which prohibits cops and SPOs from travelling in civilian vehicles. "Obviously, the Maoists were well informed about the movements of the cops and they seized the opportunity," a source said.

"The Maoists have turned the entire area into a minefield. The red rebels are recruiting and training more cadre. There is huge infiltration from Maharashtra, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh," said a senior officer of the Chhattisgarh police on condition of anonymity. The SPOs were returning to their base camps after participating in an operation near Kirandul.

Chhattisgarh police department spokesman R K Vij said, "The explosion occurred 9km before Sukhma. The injured, including four civilians and two SPOs, were taken to the Sukma hospital."

Speaking to TOI, Brigadier (Retd) B K Ponwar, who served in the Indian Army and is now director, Counter-Terror & Jungle Warfare College in Kanker, said, "The Maoists must have an IED (improvised explosives devices) map like the Army has mine-mapping along LoC. These IEDs are not laid overnight. They were probably laid long back when the roads were under construction. This is why they are not perceptible; they are all under black tarmac."

The IED was detonated by using a remote control device. The rebels also used a large quantity of gelatine sticks. "The blast blew the bits of the bus up to a radius of 150 meters. The rebels might have planted the IED some time ago knowing fully well that the cops and the SPOs would be travelling in that route," sources said.

Cops in the Dantewada said that the private transporter Ashwini Raj Kumar's bus had left from Kirandul in Bailadeela at 2:45pm. The SPOs boarded the bus only at Bhusaras Ghati. "The Maoists must have seen them boarding the bus as the blast took place 3km from here," said a source.

The attack came a day before the Maoists call for a 48-hour bandh in five states, including Chhattisgarh, from Tuesday in protest against `Operation Green Hunt'.