3 arrested in Laxmanananda murder case

In a major breakthrough, Orissa's Criminal Investigation Department on Monday arrested three Christian tribals from Baliguda block in connection with the August 23 murders of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others at Jalespeta ashram in Kandhamal district. The arrested persons have been identified as Duryodhan Sunamajhi, Munda Badamajhi and Sanatana Badamajhi.

A senior CID official who arrested the trio told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity that two single-barrel muzzle-loader guns and a shirt which could have been used as a mask were also recovered from them. They have been forwarded to a court in Baliguda.

The CID, which is being assisted by the state's anti-Naxal police force, has found that about seven to eight Maoist hardliners were involved in the murders, while the others who accompanied them were trained in the use of firearms by the rebels. "Some other people lead the group to the ashram and were armed with sharp weapons," added the official.

The arrests came two days after Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda admitted to a group of mediapersons that Maoist groups in Orissa derived major support from minority communities. During his interview in the forests of Daringibadi block, Panda also claimed that there was pressure from both Christians and Dalits to kill Saraswati. "It is a fact that Christians form the majority in our organisation. Our supporters in Rayagada, Gajapati and Kandhamal also belonged to the Christian community," he said.

According to him, Saraswati was killed because he did not pay heed when the Maoists' warned him to put an end to his anti-Christian activities. Panda, however, added that the rebel outfit did not have any religious convictions or allegiances.

CID officials, who have been camping in Kandhamal for more than a month, said they have identified the group that murdered Saraswati. "The group that killed the Swami comprised around 35 people, although the conspiracy was hatched much before by around 100 people in the district. We have identified the Maoists as well as others who are overground. We will arrest some of them very soon," said the officer.

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