Berhampur: The abduction of two Italians is the first such incident in Odisha`s Kandhamal district involving foreigners, but the district has witnessed an alarming spurt in extremist violence in the last four years.
Covered by dense forest and being a mountainous terrain, the tribal-dominated district has served as a safe haven and hide-out for extremists for some time, an intelligence official said.
The district had not witnessed any violence or abduction by left-wing ultras before the encounter of Gasama, a jungle located in a tri-junction bordering Ganjam-Kandhamal and Nayagarh districts, he said.
The encounter between security forces and the Maoists had taken place a day after the ultras looted arms and ammunition from the district armoury and police station at Nayagarh after killing at least 13 policemen in February, 2008.
The rebels since then chose the district as their hideout and a base for movement of their militia supporters from the tribal villages, mostly located near the jungles, said a senior police officer.
SP (Kandhamal), J N Pankaj, said lack of proper communication, dense forests, thick tribal population with acute poverty and backwardness are some of the reasons for the recent spurt in Maoist activity in the district.
The bitter ethnic and communal conflict in 2007 and 2008 also seemed to have helped the ultras who have taken advantage of the volatile situation, said a social activist.
Another senior police officer, however, said that after heavy deployment of central security forces in Gajapati district, which witnessed Maoist activity before 2008, the
ultras shifted their base to Kandhamal.
The district also provides corridors for easy movement into the jungles from Rayagada, Gajapati, Ganjam, he added.
Besides killing VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on August 23, 2008, the rebels also attacked Katingia outpost near Bramhanigaon the same year.
In 2008, at least two Maoist-related incidents were registered by the police. Six people were killed in the incidents, official sources said.
Since then as many as 37 Maoist-related cases were registered in the district. At least 23 persons, including 17 civilians, five security personnel and one Maoist were killed during the period.
Altogether 52 persons, including several militia supporters were also arrested by the police from 2008-2012 in the district, sources said.
Since the beginning of this year, three policemen were killed, while police registered three red-related cases and arrested two Maoists, they said.