More than 24 hours after Maoist rebels mowed down 17 policemen in one of the deadliest attacks in Gadchiroli district, combing operations by the Border Security Force and the state police continued even as people on Friday bade farewell to the martyrs.
"Combing operations are going on but no arrests have so far been made," Director General of Police S S Virk said.
Hundreds of civilians gathered at the Parade ground in Gadchiroli, in a spontaneous outpouring of grief and respect for the policemen, who laid down their lives in the line of duty combating home-bred Maoist terror.
The fragile peace of Gadchiroli was broken on Thursday as the forest adjoining Lahiri in Bhamragad tehsil reverberated with gunfire when a police contingent, also comprising commandos of the elite C-60 anti-Naxal force, came under a barrage of Maoist bullets.
On a terrain suited for hit-and-run tactics often employed by the Maoist guerrillas, the policemen put up a brave resistance, but were hugely outnumbered.
"The Maoists had ostensibly come after a lot of preparation and surrounded us from all sides. All of them were heavily armed," one of the survivors told the media.
"We had gone to the villages adjoining Lahiri police station on patrol when we came under sudden attack. We retaliated and the encounter went on for four hours. Several of our people lost their lives," he said.
Jayant Patil, minister of home, his deputy Nitin Raut and the state police chief were present at the Parade ground to pay homage to the slain policemen.
"Our battle against Maoists will continue. The attack has made our resolve to tackle the Maoist menace even stronger," said Patil.
"We will give a befitting reply to the Maoists in the language they understand," said an angry Raut.
Patil sought to put to rest speculations about deferment of the October 13 assembly polls in Maoist-affected districts, saying, "There will be no rescheduling."
The minister said 35 companies of paramilitary forces had been deployed in districts with significant Maoist presence to assist the local police in ensuring peace during the polls.
Dismissing insinuations in the media about the delay in rushing reinforcements to the scene of the encounter, Patil said there was nothing deliberate about it, as Maoists had placed trees and logs to block the movement of rescue teams.
Virk said that no arrests have been made so far in connection with the incident despite a contingent of about 80 BSF personnel, besides those of the state police, combing the dense forests.
"Combing operations are going on but no arrests have so far been made," he said, adding that no helicopters had been pressed into service for giving aerial cover to the ground forces or for reconnaissance.
Meanwhile, politicians have been advised against flying over Maoist-hit Gadchiroli district lest they come under attack from the left-wing extremists, who are believed to be hiding in the jungles of the district and contiguous areas in Chhattisgarh.
"Maoists may strike politicians flying over the region. It's betterthat they avoid flying over these areas as Maoists can go to any extent to disrupt the elections," said N S Jagtap, spokesperson for the Gadchiroli police.
When asked about the compensation granted to the dependents of the slain policemen, Jayant Patil said it would be as per the new policy, post the terror attack on Mumbai.
Though he did not quantify the compensation, the legal heirs of security personnel martyred in the 26/11 terror strike were given Rs 25 lakh, besides petrol pumps or LPG dealerships.