Security forces on Saturday moved into Lalgarh and took control of the police station in the area to snuff out the six-day old siege by Maoists who ambushed a convoy en route to the area in West Midnapore district injuring six policemen.
A landmine, hidden underneath a culvert, exploded as a convoy ferrying security forces passed over it on the West Midnapore-Bankura district border injuring four policemen, Superintendent of Police (Burdwan) Humayun Kabir, who was leading the men, told PTI.
A group of around 60 Maoists then fired at the convoy injuring another two, he said.
Four Maoists were killed in the encounter. Four policemen were injured in a landmine blast while two other were hurt in the exchange of fire.
In New Delhi, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the West Bengal government was considering banning the CPI(Maoists) following a suggestion by Home Minister P Chidambaram.
The first group of security men arrived at Lalgarh police station, which had been cut off by the tribals since November last year, with the police saying that it was a 'partial victory'.
DIG (Midnapore Range) Praveen Kumar told an impromptu press conference before the police station, "It is a partial victory. The hundred per cent operation is yet to be completed. It may take days, even weeks to do this."
Maoist leader Koteswar Rao, who is believed to be providing leadership to the agitation at Lalgarh, on Saturday said that the West Bengal government should stop the police operation and hold talks with the people to find a solution to their problems.
"If the Left Front government wants to have discussion with the people of Lalgarh, the operation by the police and security forces against them should end," Rao, a politburo member of the CPI(Maoist), said.
On their way to Lalgarh, securitymen also came under fire from Maoists on the Pingboni-Sarenga road, the Burdwan SP said. Two landmines planted on the road, which was blocked with felled trees, were defused, Kabir said.
With several Maoists mixing with the local population, it was a difficult task for the security personnel to identify them. While some of the locals supported the Maoists, some others opted not to go against out of fear.
The securitymen wearing bullet-proof vests sanitised the Jhitka jungle, a Maoist area stretching for five km from Binpur ahead of Lalgarh before the forces headed towards Lalgarh.
In Kolkata, Chief Secretary Asok Mohan Chakraborty said, "We have been able to enter Lalgarh police station. Our task now is for the return of normalcy and to win back the confidence of the people."
The DIG (Midnapore Range) said, "We have an agenda to establish the rule of the law. Our next move will be to clear 42 villages in areas in Lalgarh from the agitators."
Though it takes two hours to cover the distance between Midnapore town and Lalgarh, the security forces required three days. "We moved with caution. We took measures not to risk the lives of ordinary people," the DIG said.
Asked about Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities spearheading the tribal agitation since November last year, Kumar said he would be arrested. "We will crack down on everyone against whom cases are pending."
About the strategy adopted for reclaiming Lalgarh, he said, "It is the tactical advantage of our forces. Our forces are a threat to the Maoists, not the people."
He said before arriving in Lalgarh the security forces passed through villages where the people said they wanted security from Maoists. "We, the police, as friends of the people, will provide them security."
To a question, the chief secretary ruled out immediate talks with the Maoists. "I don't find a congenial atmosphere for discussions with this outfit.
Central forces, comprising men from BSF and CRPF, fanned out in the forests for combing operations against the Maoists. The securitymen donning camouflage and bullet-proof vests sanitised the five-km stretch of Jhitka jungle, a Maoist-dominated area.Lalgarh police station was out of bounds since November last year when tribals under the banner of PCAPA launched a boycott of police to protest raids on their homes following a landmine blast targeting the Chief Minister.