Hundreds of policemen fanned out in various directions in Orissa on Saturday after suspected Maoists simultaneously attacked five police establishments in Nayagarh district. Fourteen people were killed in the well-coordinated strike that lasted for several hours.
"A combing operation is going on to nab the Maoists. We have deployed about 600 policemen in the affected areas," Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told journalists.
Rajesh Kumar, the Nayagarh district police chief, told IANS that more than 500 armed Maoists simultaneously attacked three police stations, a government armoury, a police training centre, and some police posts.
A group of rebels, including some women guerrillas, attacked the district police headquarter at Nayagarh, about 85 km from here, as well as a nearby armoury and police training centre at about 10.30 pm.
Other groups of Maoists barged into police stations at nearby Daspalla and Nuagaon towns, attacked policemen and looted weapons, Kumar said.
While the Maoist virtually laid siege on Nayagarh town for more than three hours, they continued their attack in other places till early Saturday. They also attacked two police outposts and set them on fire, he said.
"They have looted a large quantity of arms and ammunitions during their raids that continued for more than three hours," Kumar said.
He added that at least 14 people, including 13 policemen, were killed during the shootout between policemen and Maoists. The 14th victim was a civilian caught in the crossfire. Four people were injured, two of them are said to be critical.
The rebels had also sealed all entry and exit points of the town to prevent the movement of vehicles during their operation. They even sealed the entry to the district police chief's residence.
The chief minister visited the affected area on Saturday and met the families of those killed.
Patnaik also announced compensation of Rs 1 million each for the families of the policemen who were killed by armed rebels and Rs.200,000 for the family of the civilian who died in the crossfire.
He also announced that the government would bear the medical expenses of all the injured.
The state assembly was adjourned for two hours on Saturday after the Congress led opposition created a pandemonium, demanding the chief minister's resignation.
Opposition members alleged that the law and order situation in the state had worsened under Patnaik, who is also the home minister.
Gopal Chandra Nanda, Orissa director general of police, said: "We had no prior information about this attack. Maoists were never active in Nayagarh district."
However, he said the latest attack has not demoralised the police. "This will make us stronger," Nanda said.
A home department official told IANS condition of anonymity that the attack is suspected to be the handiwork of Maoist leader Sabysachi Panda because he hailed from Nayagarh district.
He added that security has been beefed up across the state and the police have sealed all exit routes.
"The Maoists might have escaped to the neighbouring districts of Ganjam, Boudh, and Kandhamal and hundreds of policemen and paramilitary forces have been sent there. Police have detained at least a dozen people across the state for interrogation," the official said.