Security forces on Saturday launched a multi-pronged attack on Maoists and moved closer to the rebel stronghold of Ramgarh by marching through dense forests, defusing landmines and firing mortars on the way in West Midnapore district.
This was the 10th day of the massive security operations launched to flush out the Maoists in areas in and around Lalgarh, about 200 km west of state capital Kolkata.
The Maoists tried to resist by unleashing bullets from what the security forces believe were automatic and semi-automatic weapons they had earlier looted from police camps, but proved no match for the overwhelmingly superior firepower of the joint central and West Bengal state police forces.
In Ramgarh, 22 km from here, the rebels had torched a police camp and driven out the civil administration earlier this month.
One group of security forces moved from Kadasole village, where they had camped overnight after setting out from Goaltore near West Midnapore's border with neighbouring Bankura district, and crossed the Maoist-infested Mohultala forest to inch closer to Ramgarh.
The Maoists fired from two sides in the jungle, but beat a retreat after the security forces fired back.
The forces moved in a ?V' formation with the state's armed police moving in double file on the main road and the paramilitary troopers giving them cover by moving through jungles on both sides of the roads, looking for Maoists in nearby villages and trying to identify landmines.
"We will reach Ramgarh in the next couple of hours. And then we will launch combing operations from various sides to track down the Maoists. We have not suffered any casualties," said Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) Raj Kanojia in Kolkata.
Another team of securitymen moved out from the base camp at Lalgarh for Ramgarh, but came up against strong resistance from the ultras at Amdanga close to another Maoist den of Chokhasole jungles.
Roads had been dug and trees felled to block the advancing forces, which found a Maoist poster asking people to avoid the area as landmines had been planted there and which went on to defuse two low-powered mines.
A tribal body, People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), backed by the Maoists, had since last November established virtual control over 42 villages in Lalgarh and surrounding areas where the state administration had virtually abdicated its role to hundreds of Maoist extremists.
The troopers have so far re-established the writ of the state in more than half of these villages.
Lalgarh has been on the boil since November when a landmines 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.
Maoists are active in areas under 21 police stations in the state's three western districts - West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.