Perched on treetops along hillock, Naxals waited for CRPF soft targets

An anecdote shared by villagers of Amwatikar, 40 km from Latehar, suggests that many of them anticipated a one-sided encounter after CRPF troops had passed the village. "CRPF marched through the village around 11 on Monday morning (last week)," said a villager, who wished to remain unnamed. "One of the children in the school told the teacher, 'The party (Maoists) too went that side earlier. These people are going to be surprised'."

Taken by surprise they indeed were. Some 300 troops — a company of 134 Battalion, two of 112 Battalion and one of Jharkhand Jaguars — walked into an ambush. About 250 members of the CPI(Maoist) military wing were waiting for them along a hillock, having built platforms on treetops.

"Treetops are not ideal positions for a sustained fight. Staying there makes one an easy target," said an officer, who did not wish to be named either. "However, they are great to launch the first volley of bullets. The Maoists climbed down immediately after firing the first shots, with their people on the ground providing covering fire."

The300-odd men were part of a larger operation that had been in progress for the past 21 days. Security forces had received inputs about the presence of CPI(Maoist) central committee member Arvindji in the area. "We had had encounters with the 250-member group accompanying Arvindji in the Chatra-Daltonganj border and near NH-75," said inspector general S N Pradhan, spokesperson for the Jharkhand police and in charge of operations and the special branch.

"They managed to give us the slip both times," said another officer. "There was a suspicion that Arvindji was here for a central committee meeting in the Saranda forests, but now we suspect that he could have been going elsewhere, or missed the meeting."

Officers now admit their forces had been lured into the trap by PLGA cadres. "They were clearly waiting for our men," said one officer. "The group was supposed to go in another direction. Then someone emerged from the forest, waving his arms. He was indicating he was unarmed, and our scout asked him to approach slowly, but he ran away. Those of the 134 Battalion, who were in front, pursued him and the bullets hit them."

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