Suspected Naxalites gunned down a team of 15 policemen, including a sub inspector in a thickly forested area near the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border, 300 km from Nagpur on Sunday morning.
Reports reaching here said the police team had been sent to investigate a major fire in a remote forest village on Thursday.
“The Naxalites were waiting for them and ambushed them as they were on their way,” a senior police official said.
The encounter, which wiped the entire police party, began around 11 am and continued for two hours in the jungles at Marke in Gadchiroli district, police said.
Three dalams (squads) of Naxalites, comprising over 150 people, armed with AK-47 rifles and other sophisticated weapons, attacked the police squad, which was taken completely by surprise.
Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said it was unfortunate to lose brave policemen. “We will ensure strong action against their attackers,” he told HT.
Chavan said he had asked Home Minister Jayant Patil to rush to the spot immediately. He assured that the government would help the family of deceased in all possible ways. Chavan is expected to visit Gadchiroli on Monday.
Police suspect the attack was a retaliation to the arrest of 15 Naxalites, including two dalan commanders on Friday.
The bodies of all the policemen have been recovered but are yet to be brought to the district headquarters.
Home Minister Jayant Patil said the attack was preplanned. “There is strong possibility of Naxals moving out to neighbouring states. We sent reinforcement after learning about the attack. We had summoned a helicopter from Chhattisgarh as well,” he said.
Gadchiroli and the neighbouring districts of Chandrapur and Gondia — all three in the impoverished Vidarbha region, populated mainly by Gond tribals — are the key centres of Naxalite activity in the state. Around 15 dalams are said to be active in the area.
This is the second major Naxalite attack in the region in recent months. Four policemen, including a PSI were killed during a routine patrol near Korepalli in the same district on October 25 last year.
In 2005, 14 police personnel were killed in two Naxalite blasts in Gadchiroli and neighbouring Gondia districts. That year as many as 25 police personnel were killed in attacks as against only three naxalites.