Maoist extremists were willing to talk to West Bengal's Communist government in the presence of the "intelligentsia" if the operation against them in Lalgarh were stopped, a senior leader said on Tuesday as forces continued to sanitise the area and prepare for the next phase of security action in nearby Ramgarh.
"If the operations are withdrawn and the intelligentsia takes the initiative, we are prepared to hold talks with the government. Of course, representatives of the intelligentsia have to present during the talks," Maoist leader Sagar told the Star Ananda Bengali news channel.
Two days ago, a group of anti Left Front intellectuals, including filmmaker Aparna Sen and theatre personalities Kaushik Sen and Shaonli Mitra, had visited Lalgarh, just about 200km west of state capital Kolkata, and called for a ceasefire after holding discussions with people and groups active in the former rebel-held enclave where the state had virtually abdicated its role to hundreds of Maoist extremists.
Security forces, which began their operations six days ago and have succeeded in establishing control over Lalgarh, on Tuesday intensified patrolling in view of the 48-hour shutdown called by the Communist Party of India-Maoist and continued sanitising the area.
Security forces, comprising the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Lalgarh, its specialised anti-Maoist team CoBRA (Combat Battalion for Resolute Action), Border Security Force and the armed police, are likely to be joined by 1,000 more central paratroopers by Tuesday night.
A police source said a full-scale march to Ramgarh, 22 km from , where the Maoists had torched a police camp and driven out the civil and military administration earlier this month will begin after the reinforcements arrive.
"The operations (in Lalgarh) are continuing. Our aim now is to ensure that all roads are cleared. Then we will go to the villages situated in the remote areas away from the main roads and conduct raids," state Inspector General of Police (Western Range) Kuldip Singh told IANS over the phone.
"Our first priority is to clear access points, see that there are no landmines or bombs planted and also to disable the Maoists from carrying out such activities in future by sanitising and keeping vigil in the area," he said.
Asked whether the security forces are trying to build up rapport with the villagers, Kuldip Singh said: "It doesn't matter now. First we need to know who is a Maoist and who is not. The rapport building will come later once the places are cleared of these elements."
After the discovery of wire and other material used to plant landmines on the Lalgarh-Ramgarh route, security forces have been combing the area since Monday. The strategy is to set up a camp at Ramgarh to keep a close watch on the Maoist zone Kantapahari, which is between Lalgarh and Ramgarh.
"Once these base camps are strengthened then we will launch assault on the
Maoists from various directions," said Kuldip Singh.
Lalgarh has been on the boil since last November when a landmine exploded on the route of the convoy of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and then central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada.
Complaining of police atrocities after the blast, angry tribals backed by Maoists launched an agitation virtually cutting off the area from the rest of West Midnapore district.
In recent days, the agitators have torched CPI-M offices, driven away the ruling party's supporters and forced the police to leave, thereby establishing a virtual free zone.