At least eight villagers were killed and several are missing after an encounter between a joint team of the CRPF and district police and alleged Maoists in Ehadsameta village of Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh late Friday night. Three of the dead were minors,villagers said.
A member of the CoBRA unit of the CRPF,Deva Prakash,was also killed in the firing. While security forces admitted that the dead were villagers,police are not claiming any of them was a Maoist. The forces,however,said they had destroyed a Naxal hideout.
The dead have been identified as Guddu Karam,Pandu Karam,Joga Karam,Chomu Karam,Punem Sonu,Punem Lakham and Karam Masa. Villagers claimed that Guddu and Punem and another deceased who was not immediately identified were minors,aged between 10 and 15 years.
Incidentally,it was in the same district that 17 villagers had been killed in an encounter a year ago. While the forces had called it the biggest Maoist encounter,almost all the dead later turned out to be innocent villagers.
Fridays night operation involved 1,000 men from the CRPF and state police,who fanned out in five groups reportedly to bust a training hub of the Maoists. Police sources said that one of these groups came under fire at Ehadsameta village. Some villagers were killed in retaliatory fire,police said.
There was an encounter,and an exchange of fire from both sides. Some villagers have died. A probe is on, R K Vij,Additional Director General (Naxal Operations),Chhattisgarh Police,said.
We have also received information that some villagers died, Bijapur DSP Ashok Singh said. We have begun a probe and are going to the spot again.
A CRPF officer confirmed the presence of minors among the dead,adding: I cannot say whether they were killed by our bullets or those of the Maoists,or whether they were being used by Maoists as human shields.
CRPF sources in Delhi said the operation had led to the discovery of a training barrack. They claimed the men had come under fire several times. The CoBRA personnel who died took a bullet in his forehead, an officer said.
Villagers,however,denied any links with Maoists and claimed that the forces started firing while they had gathered to celebrate the local Beej Pondum festival. This is the same festival which the villagers had been celebrating last year as well when they were fired upon.
with Vijaita Singh in New Delhi