Strategy meet to fight Maoists

Ranchi, Jan. 23: Jharkhand under President's Rule is beefing up its campaign against Naxalism through security and symbolism, with CRPF top brass hosting a closed-door meeting today on ways to contain rebels amid anticipation that Union minister Jairam Ramesh will hoist the Tricolour in Saranda on Republic Day.

A day after the bloody Latehar rebel encounter toll rose to 15, with jawan Mahesh Ram succumbing to his injuries at Apollo Hospitals, CRPF director-general Pranay Sahay held closed-door talks for two hours to fine-tune strategies and intensify security operations in rebel-hit areas of the state.

As many as 17 battalions of CRPF and two units of special strike force COBRA are fighting Naxalites in Jharkhand jointly with the state police.

The first month of the year saw rude reality checks in the form of a rebel-sponsored bloody ambush in Latehar and landmine blasts in Jhumra. In Latehar's Amuatikar forest, fierce gun battle on January 7-8 has so far claimed 11 jawans and four civilians.

In the course of the carnage, rebels also planted bombs in the abdomen of jawan corpses in a bid to cause more casualties during rescue or post-mortems, an act that sparked national outrage.

Today, after paying tribute to CRPF jawan Mahesh Ram at Dhurwa's CRPF unit, DG Sahay said: "The fight will continue and Maoists will get a befitting reply."

Anaconda I and II notwithstanding, CRPF has faced up to the fact that rebels hold sway in almost half of Jharkhand ' Latehar, Palamau, Garhwa, Bokaro, Hazaribagh, Giridih and pockets of West Singhbhum, including Saranda.

At the closed-door meeting, Sahay spoke to CRPF officers, including deputy inspector generals and commandants, reviewing action taken in areas manned by them and brainstorming on strategies.

"The details cannot be shared due to security reasons," a DIG-ranked officer said, adding that Sahay closely discussed every area.

Sources said operations in Latehar were on, while police and para-military forces were now fanning out in the southern part of Amuatikar forests adjoining Palamau district. In Jharkhand now, rebel activity appears to be concentrated in forest corridors across districts that are close to borders.

CRPF and Bihar Police have also approached Border Security Force (BSF) air wing in Ranchi seeking details on the logistics of stationing a Dhruv chopper in Gaya (Bihar) near Palamau where Maoist activity has intensified of late.

At present, two Dhruv choppers managed and maintained by BSF at the Birsa Munda Airport hangars airlift injured jawans or flies senior security personnel to rebel-hit and inaccessible destinations of Jharkhand, Bihar and Bengal.

Jharkhand's anti-Naxalite campaign's poster child Saranda, in West Singhbhum, needs scrutiny to nip rebel nascent activity in the bud and allow the Centre's multi-crore development action plan to flourish.

Union minister Ramesh, who is behind the Saranda Action Plan, is expected to be in Ranchi tomorrow. He will hold meetings with the governor's advisers, Madhukar Gupta and K. Vijay Kumar ' a former CRPF director-general ' on Friday in which bureaucrats heading important state departments such as rural development, rural works, home, panchayati raj, drinking water and sanitation will be present.

On Republic Day, he is expected to be at Saranda.

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