Bhubaneswar: The Odisha police was upbeat about apprehending top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda "soon" after eliminating his close associate Pradip Majhi alias Gobind in a fierce encounter on Monday.
"We will get Sabyasachi Panda soon as police are very close to him," Director General of Police (DGP) Prakash Mishra told reporters while describing the killing of Pradip as a "big setback" for Odisha Maobadi Party (OMP) in which he was the military in-charge.
The OMP was set up by Panda after his expulsion from CPI (Maoist) last year.
He said Panda was not present at the spot of the encounter but likely in a nearby area.
Indicating that police would not harm Panda if he chose to surrender, Mishra said Panda and his group had remained adamant and rejected requests by police to surrender.
"OMP has been reduced to a small group and is not attacking police now. But Panda is found re-grouping instead of making any move to lay down arms," Mishra said adding the outfit`s cadres were hiding in jungles and was active in Ganjam, Gajapati, Rayagada and Kandhamal districts of southern Odisha.
OMP, though possessing a number of modern arms like AK47s and SLRs rarely attacked security personnel as they knew that any attack on police at this juncture would inflict big loss on them.
"One cannot say that the Panda group has links with any foreign terrorist outfit though some Italian and Chinese arms were recovered from them," the DGP said.
"If they (Panda group) do not abjure arms, we will do our duty and ensure that the state is Maoist free," he said and claimed that police had done a lot to ensure smooth surrender of all the cadre members.
"Still Panda and his group can safely surrender now," the DGP said.
Dubbing Majhi (25) as a "notorious Maoist", Mishra said a total 46 cases, including murder, were pending against him.
Majhi was allegedly involved in the much publicised cases like abduction of two Italian nationals last year, attacks on Nayagarh armoury in 2008 and on R Udaigiri police station, killing of VHP leader Swamy Laxmanananda Saraswati in 2008, besides killing of two home guards and torching of several mobile towers.
The slain Maoist was operating as the deputy to Panda and was a member of OMP`s Bansadhara division which was active in Gajapati, Ganjam, Rayagada and Kandhamal districts. He had also worked as deputy of top maoist leaders like Uday and Azad, both of whom were now in prison, the DGP said.
Acting on a tip off, District Voluntary Force (DVF) of Gajapati and Ganjam had launched a joint raid in Karanjaguda forests near Kendupada and a heavy exchange of fire ensued with ultras last night.
"During search in the area this morning police found a body. On verification, the deceased was identified as Pradip Majhi, a native of Karadapada under Gudari police station of Rayagada district," Gajapati district superintendent of police C S Meena said.
The other Maoists managed to escape.
An Italian-made pistol, two loaded magazines, one SBML gun, a kit bag with food, personal belongings and Maoist literature were found on the site, he added.
Majhi had joined Odisha Chatra Manch of CPI (Maoist) in 2003 when he was a student of class VIII.