Controversy Over Chattisgarh Anti-Naxal Encounter

New Delhi/Raipur
Controversy Over Chattisgarh Anti-Naxal Encounter
A controversy has erupted over the killing of 19 persons in anti-Maoist operations by security forces in Chattisgarh last week amid questions whether the victims were all Naxals with Chief Minister Raman Singh today saying the rebels were using humans as "shields".

Singh and the CRPF defended the encounter while social activist Swami Agnivesh condemned the incident, claiming innocent tribals lost their lives in a "cold-blooded murder." The incident was the most brutal since independence, Agnivesh said.

CPI(M) demanded a time-bound judicial inquiry into last week's killing by CRPF and state police of 19 people, including a woman and two children, alleging they were either brutally axed to death or killed in "indiscriminate firing".

With his government coming under attack from the opposition Congress over the incident, Singh said if any innocent person was killed or injured, then the Naxals must be held responsible for it as they often use innocent villagers as back-up for themselves during such gunfight and use them as "human shields".

Singh said the Congress should not politicise the matter. The Congress alleged that the incident was a "completely fake encounter" and that the victims "innocent Adivasis."

At least 19 suspected Naxals were killed in a fierce gunfight in the dense jungles of Dantewada during the night-long encounter on June 27-28 in a joint operation by over 300 CRPF and state police personnel in three directions.

Rejecting allegations that innocent villagers were killed, Union Home Secretary RK Singh said six CRPF personnel were also injured in the encounter. He also pointed out that one woman was killed in the encounter and that Naxal outfits had women cadres.

Home Minister P Chidambaram, while interacting with the media in the national capital last week, had identified three important naxals leaders-- Somulu, Nagesh and Mahesh-- who were killed in the gunbattle.

The CRPF claimed its men had retaliated to firing from the rebels.

"We never resorted to the firing. It was provoked from the other side. We had to protect ourselves after so many were injured in open fire...Twice our people retreated on seeing women and children in the front," CRPF DG Vijay Kumar said.

"In the transgression who got injured and how is the matter of forensics and investigation...But it is not as if we open fire in every instance. Each incident is a standalone, each incident is typical. In one major operation very recently our people withdrew twice on seeing a human shield," Vijay Kumar said defending the encounter.

Kumar said truth will emerge after the completion of probe.

"But the point is, you look at the time of the event, you look at the context, look at the area which we are talking about, and the mission.

We can't say which side the bullet went, you see the context of the time and what situation where they were heading whether there was malafide, whether there was any intention, that's it," he added.

Congress treaded cautiously on the issue maintaining that tribals should not become "victims in the cross fire" between naxals and security forces.

Downplaying Chidambaram's statement that three naxals were killed in the encounter, AICC in-charge for Chhattisgarh B K Hariprasad said that the Home Minister was merely quoting from the report of the state government.

Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi also treaded cautiously on the issue saying "we do not have complete information in this regard. We have asked the AICC general secretary in-charge of the state to submit a report in this regard. Home Minister has already spoken on it but let us have a complete picture. We will say something then.

Congress has sent a 12 member fact-finding team from the state led by senior MLA Kawasi Lakhma.

"Tribals should not become victims of the cross fire between security forces. They should be protected at all costs...The state government has a responsibility for people's security," Hariprasad said.

Asked about the difference in the stand taken by the state Congress that it was a "completely fake encounter" and Chidambaram's remarks last week that three important naxals leaders-- Somulu, Nagesh and Mahesh---were killed in the gun battle, Hariprasad said," the Home Minister was actually stating from the report of the state government."

"What Chidambaram said was on the basis of the report, he said.
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