Raipur/New Delhi: In a major crackdown by CRPF, at least 20 Naxalites including a woman were killed in a fierce overnight gunfight in the dense jungles of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh that also left six jawans wounded.
The CRPF has recovered 18 bodies of the suspected Naxalites while one of the ultras died after he was shifted to a hospital in state capital Raipur as he had sustained bullet injuries.
"Sixteen bodies were recovered at Basuguda while two were recovered from Penta near Chintalnar. The forces have also recovered weapons and other belongings from the Naxals hideout," CRPF IG (Operations) at force headquarters in Delhi Pankaj Singh said on Friday.
Sources said the Naxals fled with the body of one of its cadres
The encounter, which took place in the forests of Silger, an uncharted Maoist zone between the Naxal hotbed of Jagargunda and Basaguda in Bijapur district of Bastar region, was launched last night in a joint operation by over 300 CRPF and state police personnel from three directions.
Officials said there were reports of more Naxals being killed in the encounter but the bodies could not be recovered.
Home Minister P Chidambaram, while interacting with the media in the national capital said among the killed ultras, three were "important leaders" of the Naxalites cadre and identified them as Somulu, Nagesh and Mahesh.
"The CRPF and security forces dealt with the incident bravely and with great courage and skill," he said.
This is the biggest offensive by security forces in a Naxal stronghold in Chhattisgarh this year.
Six CRPF men, including two CoBRA commandos, sustained bullet injuries and have been air-lifted for medical aid to Raipur. Two of them are critical, officials said.
This is the same area, close to Chintalnar, where Naxals had carried out an audacious attack on security forces killing 75 CRPF men and one state police personnel in 2010.
Chidambaram said the operation was a planned one by the
CRPF and state police but the "first fire" came from the Maoists and the forces were subjected to heavy firing.
He said there were 45 ultras who ambushed the security forces` squad.
Keeping in view the tough terrain and presence of a big Naxal squad in mind, the CRPF had deputed a deputy inspector general and two commandant-rank officers, supported by an additional SP of state police, to lead the operation.
The CRPF mobilised three units of commandos and regular troops, aided by two helicopters for the encounter from three directions -- Jagargunda, Chintalnar and Basaguda.
The security forces also recovered some weapons, .303 rifles and other paraphernalia after the area was searched by them.
The encounter comes over a month after Maoists had abducted and subsequently released the Collector of Sukma district Alex Paul Menon in Bastar region.
The CRPF has deployed about 20 battalions (20,000 personnel) for undertaking anti-Naxal operations in the state.
Chhattisgarh`s Additional Director General of Police (Naxal operations) Ramnivas told reporters in Raipur that the slain Naxals included a 15-year-old girl Kumari Kaka.
He said four hardcore Naxals including Madkam Suresh (35), who was allegedly the mastermind behind major jailbreak at Dantewada in 2007 in which 299 inmates had escaped, were among those killed.
Ramnivas said the security agencies had received information that an `important meeting` of key Naxal leaders and `military dalam` from Odisha was going to take place in the jungles near Chintalnar.
The meeting was meant to plan a major operation, according to information received by the police.
The forces divided themselves into three teams and one each headed for Jagargunda, Chintalnar and Basaguda. In all, about 1,000 jawans took part in the operation. A major skirmish took place at Sarkeguda village near Basaguda, he said.
According to the ADG, 15 people including five women who were picked up from the spot, were being questioned.
Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh Congress president Nandkumar Patel said that the party has set up a 12-member committee to conduct inquiry into the incident as some women and children were reportedly among those killed.