At least 20 paramilitary jawans were killed in the biggest-ever Maoist attack in West Bengal, when ultras overran their camp at Silda in West Midnapore after setting it on fire on Monday, barely a week after Union Home Minister P Chidambaram's meeting in Kolkata to draw up a joint strategy to counter them.
"At least 20 jawans of Eastern Frontiers Rifles have been killed in the attack at the Silda camp and the condition of two of them is stated to be very critical," District Magistrate N S Nigam said. The Maoists launched another attack on a Central Reserve Police Force camp at Dharampur in the district on Monday night.
A group of 40 armed Maoists attacked the camp at approximately 8.30 pm in Lalgarh, engaging the jawans in an exchange of fire. Nigam said at least 100 Maoists armed with sophisticated weapons came on motorcycles and four-wheelers, exploded landmines near the Silda camp, before barging inside with a volley of fire at approximately 5.30 pm.
There were 51 EFR jawans and officers in the camp when the attack took place, sources said.
Nigam said the Maoists also planted landmines on the entire stretch of the road leading to the camp.
Maoist leader Kishenji claimed responsibility for the attack. "We have attacked the camp and this is our answer to Chidambaram's 'Operation Green Hunt'. Unless the Centre stops this inhuman military operation, we are going to answer this way only," Kishenji said from an undisclosed location.
The attack took most of the jawans by surprise as they were either 'whiling away their time in the camp or were busy in the kitchen cooking', a senior police officer said.
"The Maoists engaged in an initial exchange of fire with the sentries, who repulsed the attack, but then the ultras outnumbered the jawans and barged into the camp, setting it on fire," the officer said.
According to Nigam, additional forces equipped with night vision weapons and anti-landmine vehicles have been rushed to the camp from nearby Binpur.
Kishenji, on the other hand, claimed there were at least 35 Eastern Frontier jawans who had been killed in the attack. They had looted sophisticated arms including AK-47, SLR and mortars from the camp.
He did not give the number of Maoists who took part in the attack and threatened to repeat the attacks if needed.
According to media reports that just came in, Maoists have attacked another paramilitary camp at Dharampur, near Kharagpur.