Toll rises to 15 ; Fierce encounter on with Naxalites

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Bhubaneswar, Feb 16 (UNI) The toll in the Nayagarh Naxalite attack jacked up to 15 today, while a fierce encounter was on between the Special Operation group, accompanied by Orissa State Armed Police, and the fleeing Naxalites near Gasama village in Kandhamal district bordering Ganjam.

About 200 armed Naxalites, who proceeded to Gasama after blowing up the Gallery police outpost, by three 407 mini truck, five Tata Sumo, one Bolero and ten motor cycles, were not able to proceed beyond Gasama as there was no road communication to Kandhamal district, police said.

The Naxalites had blocked the road at two places on 25-km-long Bhanjanagar-Gallery road.

But DIG of Police Southern Range R P Cooche, Ganjam Superintendent of Police Suresh Debadutta Singh, Berhampur Superintendent of Police Nitinjit Singh, officer-in-charge of three police stations along with four platoons of OSAP had rushed to Gasama bordering Ganjam district.

''The encounter is on and we heard explosion sounds like crackers and light flames from a distance,'' a local resident of Gasama said The IAF had also rushed its two Chetak choppers from Hyderabad, and a task force, headed by an Air Commodore, had also been formed to monitor the ''mission'' and help the Orissa Government in this regard.

The IAF choppers would provide the air support to about 600 security personnel, who had already fanned out in the jungles to encounter the fleeing armed Naxals. This was for the first time that IAF helicopters were being used in any anti-naxal operation in the country.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who airdashed to the small town this morning with state Home Secretary Tarun Kanti Mishra to assess the situation, announced an ex-gratia of Rs four lakh to the next kins of the slain policemen and Rs two lakh to the family member of the civilian.

Besides, the next of kin of the deceased police personnel would be paid Rs ten lakh as insurance coverage, he told the state Assembly, which witnessed a furore with the Opposition Congress disrupting the business of the House demanding his resignation over the incident.

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