As many as 24 Maoists, including eight women, were killed by security forces in a gunbattle which also left a Greyhounds commando dead near the Andhra-Odisha border on Monday, police said.
Acting on intelligence inputs, a combined team of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha Police carried out the operation in the Bejjangi forest in Odisha’s Malkangiri district early in the day.
“A total 24 Maoists have been killed in the encounter and a jawan succumbed to his injuries,” Malkangiri Superintendent of Police Mitrabhanu Mohapatra told IANS.
He, however, said the dead Maoists would be identified only after the bodies reached the district police.
The Maoists belonged to the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist.
Of the two personnel of Greyhounds — an anti-Naxalite force of the Andhra Pradesh — injured and flown to the King George Hospital in Visakhapatnam for treatment, Md Abu Bakar succumbed to his injuries.
Mohapatra said they had got the information about the presence of around 40 Maoists in the area.
Top Maoist cadre Ramakrishna alias RK is said to have managed to escape during the fighting.
Ramakrishna’s son Munna is believed to be among the slain Maoists. Munna recently joined the CPI-Maoist.
The dead also believed to include some other top leaders of the Maoist outfit from Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
“We had information about the gathering of members of Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zone Committee,” Odisha Police chief K.B. Singh said.
“The joint operation was led by the Andhra Pradesh Police and Greyhounds played a major role in it,” he said.
The officer said 10 .303 rifles, two SLRs and four AK-47 guns and some Maoist kits were seized from the spot.
Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police N. Sambasiva Rao said in Visakhapatnam that police asked the Maoists to surrender but they opened fire, forcing the police to retaliate.
The police chief said the exchange of fire continued till the evening as Maoists rejected the call for a ceasefire.
He said a helicopter was rushed to the scene to bring the injured personnel as well as Maoists to Visakhapatnam for treatment.
The DGP visited deceased Greyhounds commando Abu Bakr’s house in Gajuwaka area in Visakhapatnam and consoled his family members. He announced compensation of Rs.40 lakh for the commando’s family.
This is the first major gun battle since division of Andhra Pradesh to carve out Telangana state in 2014.
The incident dealt a huge blow to the Maoist outfit, which weakened over the last decade and is now confined to Andhra-Odisha and Telangana-Chhattisgarh border areas.
In Hyderabad, revolutionary poet Varavara Rao alleged that police killed the Maoists after attacking their meeting.
Varavara Rao demanded that a murder case be booked against the policemen involved in the attack.
“Did Maoists carry out any attack after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh? Then where was the need for this fake encounter?” asked Rao, a leader of Veerasam, a body of revolutionary writers.
Rao also demanded an inquiry into the incident by a sitting judge of the high court.
In a related development, the High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad for the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana on Monday directed the Andhra Pradesh government to preserve the bodies of the Maoists killed in the gunbattle till October 27.
The court gave this direction on a petition filed by a civil liberties activist.
The petitioner had sought comprehensive probe into the incident and action against the policemen involved as per Supreme Court guidelines about encounter killings.
The state government informed the court that the incident occurred in Odisha and that bodies of slain Maoists were yet to reach Andhra.
Stating that it cannot pass orders on the petition at this stage, the court directed that the bodies of the Maoists be preserved at King George Hospital in Visakhapatnam.