Orissa steps up combing operations against Naxals

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Bhubaneswar, Feb 18 (UNI) Orissa today intensified its combing operations against hundreds of armed Naxalites in several areas of the state following the Nayagarh mayhem on Friday in which 17 police personnel and a civilian were killed.

The operation, one of its biggest in the history of encounter against the Naxals, was triggered after information that the ultras had moved to the borders of Ganjam and Kandhmal district and were hiding on the hill top in a bid to escape to the neighbouring state.

State Home Secretary T K Mishra claimed that so far 20 Naxalites had been eliminated during a joint operation by the Greyhound, Special Operation Group, CRPF and Orissa State Armed Police(OSAP) jawans.

Senior Police officials supervising the combing operation, however, maintained that the casualty from the Naxalite side would rise as a number of them were seriously injured during the encounter at the Gasama hill bordering Ganjam and Phulbani district during the last three days.

State Director General of Police Gopal Nanda said a fierce encounter was going on in at least four places as the heavily armed Naxalites were divided into various small groups and moving into the interior villages inside the dense forest in a bid to flee from the state.

He said all the exit points bordering Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had been sealed and confirmed that the Naxalites involved in the Nayagarh massacre were still trapped inside the state.

As many as two companies of Greyhound police from Andhra Pradesh, four companies of CRPF, three companies of the Special Operation Group and over 30 battalions of the OSAP, besides police force drawn from four Southern Orissa districts were engaged in the combing operation. Two IAF Chetak helicopters were also assisting the force in the combing operation.

Report reaching here today said the Naxalites, in the face of a heavy encounter, had dispersed from the Gasama forest where they were hiding and moved to nearby forest and interior villages on foot.

A war-like situation prevailed in the borders of Ganjam and Phulbani following fierce encounter with the ultras and the villagers in the nearby areas deserting their villages fearing threat to their lives.

The intensive combing operation, the Home Secretary said, will continue till ''we come out victorious''.

The police yesterday recovered the bodies of SOG Assistant Commandant Pramod Satpathy, Personal Security to Berhampur Superintendent of Police Sushant Gauda and OSAP 7th Battalion jawan Sanjaya Kumar Panda from the Gasama forest where the encounter was continuing.

The villagers have reported the sighting of the ultras near the Ranikiari forest and Pokasinga village, located almost 20 km away from the Gasama forest.

The Home Secretary said the Naxalites were virtually trapped inside the forest with all the escape routes being sealed by the police. The ultras had now left with two options, either be killed or captured.

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